GUWAHATI: In Assam, leopards are increasingly being killed -- and sometimes even feasted upon -- by locals which could soon turn the big cat into an endangered species, fear wildlife activists.
Even as the forest department remained a mute spectator, an angry mob killed a leopard that went astray and injured three people on Thursday. The mob went ahead and feasted on the meat of the Schedule-1 animal.
There is little being done to create awareness on the importance and behaviour of this rosetted big cat.
The incident took place at Dillibari in Dibrugarh district. Earlier that day, the animal had attacked three people, inflicting grievous injuries to them, at Rangdhali village in neighbouring Charaideo district.
On spotting the animal, which swam across a river and reached Dillibari, the mob chased and killed it. Pictures of people taking away the meat have gone viral on social media.
Locals in Rangdhali alleged they had informed forest officials of the leopard’s movement but no action was taken.
Wildlife activists say not less than 200 leopards have been killed in Assam over the past five years. The forest department has turned a blind eye to the menace and is not known to have carried out any awareness campaigns among the public.
“The trend is becoming dangerous and will only escalate in the coming days if nothing is done to put a stop to it. Very soon leopards might slip into the category of being critically endangered,” well-known elephant expert Kaushik Barua told this newspaper.
Environmental journalist and wildlife activist Mubina Akhtar said the focus of Assam’s forest department appeared to be only on the rhinos of Kaziranga National Park.
“The forest department has done nothing to protect the leopards. Even the elephants are not safe. Eighty of them died in conflicts with human beings last year. Around 100 people also died. We don’t lose that many human lives in natural calamities. The only concern of Assam’s forest department is about the rhinos of Kaziranga,” Mubina said.
“We need the leopards. If there are no leopards, monkeys will play havoc and make our lives hell. Leopards are maintaining the balance by killing monkeys and eating their meat. The forest department knows this but it never creates any awareness,” she said.
With some financial assistance received from the World Wildlife Fund, she had launched a campaign “Living with Leopards” in Guwahati three years ago to create awareness among people on how they should react if they come across a leopard. The animal often comes down the hills of the city and moves around human settlements in search of food.
“Some people eat the meat of the leopard driven by the superstitious belief that they will gain the strength of the animal. Some others believe the meat has medicinal values. If there is awareness and lawful action taken against people who kill leopards, the incidents will come down,” Mubina added.