KOTTAYAM: Mohan, had a narrow escape when he encountered a leopard a few days ago. He was a rubber tapping labourer at the B-division of Travancore Rubber and Tea Estate in Chennappara Top, an area bordering the Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR), at Kombukuthi near Mundakayam. The animal was resting on a rock a few metres away from him. After alerting his fellow workers, including the women in the estate, he ran away from the spot.
"There are around seven women and three men tapping workers in this division. The presence of wild elephants, wild boars and even bison is common here," he said.
For the residents of Kombukuthi, a tribal hamlet adjoining Sabarimala forests in Koruthodu grama panchayat, everyday is like walking on a tightrope as they live in fear of wild animal attacks throughout the year. Though no human casualty was reported in man-animal conflict in the recent past, the lives and properties of the residents are at risk all the year, especially during the summer season. Recently, a leopard has also been added to the list.
Hardly a week ago, a King Cobra was spotted around 50 metres away from the estate lines where 37 families reside. When the residents alerted the forest officials, they rushed to the spot and caught the 12-feet-long snake. On Thursday morning, the carcass of a dog, partially eaten, suspected by a leopard, was found at the house of Babu of Kooralil in Kombukuthi.
On the following day, Robin, an autorickshaw driver, and Ratheesh of Kallelpallil house spotted a Bison on the wayside of Kombukuthi-Madukka road. A few years ago, a bear had fallen into a well of a house here. Though forest officials rescued the animal, it died while being shifted to the forest. Coconut trees, areca palms, nutmegs and vegetable cultivations are widely destroyed by wild boars and elephants.
"People here are living in constant fear of animal attacks. Wild elephants destroyed a grocery shop at Kannattu Kavala and the asbestos sheets of a house nearby a few months ago. Agriculture crops are also being destroyed on an everyday basis," said KS Latha, who represents the Kombukuthi ward in Koruthodu panchayat.
According to K R Saine, a CPM worker, leopards have killed as many as 30 dogs in the past couple of months. "The dogs were caught and killed from the houses, and not from the streets. On Sunday night, I directly spotted a leopard at Kumbalamthadam along Kombukuthi-Madukka road, which is hardly 1km away from the forest aid-post," he said.
In light of the recent incidents, forest officials installed four cameras (two each in Kombukuthi and Chennappara) a couple of days ago to check the movement of animals. "As per indications, we suspect the presence of leopards here. However, we couldn't trace it even after installing cameras," said N G Jayakumar, range forest officer, Erumely. The authorities are also planning to set up a cage to catch the leopard if it is spotted on camera.
There are around 430 families in the village, which is primarily occupied by Hindu Malaaraya Tribe. People belonging to the General and SC community also inhabit the place. The only demand of the villagers is a remedy for the attack of wild animals that pose a grave threat to their life and property. "Forest officials should take urgent steps to ensure the security of the people here. There is no permanent staff in the forest aid post here. Besides the round-the-clock service of forest officials, forest watchers should be deployed to check the movement of wild animals and prevent them from entering farmlands and human settlements," said Saine.
Meanwhile, the range officer said steps have already been initiated to ensure the security of the villagers from animal attacks. "We have already deployed two watchers after villagers complained about the presence of leopards. To prevent elephant attacks, the forest department has installed solar-powered fences around 9km from Koruthodu to Kombukuthi. However, there is a gap of nearly 430 metres, where we are planning to dig a trench. Procedural formalities are progressing in this regard and we are hopeful of getting sanction from the government," said Jayakumar.