The recent kidnapping of two Assamese forestry officials may have been peacefully resolved, but the caper hints at a deepening problem in India’s long troubled North-East. No, not the continued prevalence of insurgent groups that double as organized-crime outfits, but rather the bulldozing of woodlands that are the region’s foremost natural resource. The forestry officials were rumored to be targeted because the Karbi Peoples Liberation Tigers (KPLT) didn’t like the cut they were getting from government-negotiated timber deals.
One of the principal side effects of this increasing deforestation is something truly nasty: a huge upswing in leopard attacks on humans, even in densely populated urban areas:
Assam has seen a spurt in man-animal conflicts, particularly human attacks on leopards, over the past few weeks. Last week, villagers not only killed two leopards — one in Dibrugarh district and the other in Kamrup — but also shared their meat at both places. In the Kamrup incident, at least eight persons had been injured when two leopards attacked them in a field, following which the villagers killed one of them; the other escaped.
In Guwahati, at least five leopards have been rescued in the past two months while four have been killed. A man had also died in the heart of the city after being attacked by a leopard in January. The latest incident was on Sunday, when a full-grown leopard was injured after it fell into a well in the Boragaon, Guwahati…
“Leopards are indeed under severe threat across the state. Increasing conflict between people and wild animals, more particularly leopards, has become a major problem, especially with a section of the people violently retaliating, causing injury and even death to the animals,” said S P Singh, state chief conservator of forests (wildlife). Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain said a committee has been constituted to examine how this could be checked.
Knowing a bit about how things operate in India’s North-East, I can’t imagine the government doing anything meaningful to help out. Officials in the region have a terrible track record when it comes to addressing the needs of ordinary citizens. They will likely be content to let vigilantism handle the problem, to the great detriment of the leopard’s future.