Kashmir: A conflict between wild animals and humans

On June 3, 4-year-old Adda Mudasir was playing with her toys a few feet away from her brother and grandfather on the lawn of her home in Ompora village in India-administered Kashmir.

By the time her family heard the screams it was too late. A leopard had attacked the girl and dragged her away, leaving only her toys and shoes on the lawn. Her remains were found a day later hundreds of meters away near a nursery.

“I am horrified. In a few seconds, a leopard came and snatched all the happiness from my family. We were preparing to celebrate my son’s sixth birthday and she had brought him a cake and some gifts,” Mudasir’s father told DW.

“It was a murder because the government ignored our multiple alerts about the presence of leopards in the area,” he added.

At least 196 people have been killed, and 2,325 injured, by wild animals since 2011 in India-administered Kashmir. In the first six months of this year, at least 10 people have been killed and over 150 injured.

“This year we saw an abrupt increase in incidents of human-animal conflicts. We are receiving scores of panic calls from people about the presence of wild animals in their residential areas,” said a senior wildlife official in Kashmir, Ifshan Dewan. “We have captured six leopards in the past four months from the Ompora area alone,” he told DW.

Increased development encroaching on habitats

The shrinking buffer zone between forests and human settlements is a major factor in wild animals foraying into populated areas.

Although this problem has been raised by locals in the past, authorities have yet to intervene substantially.

Forests cover around 20% of Kashmir’s geographical area, with protected areas of 15,900 square kilometers (6,100 square miles), comprising five national parks, 14 wildlife sanctuaries and 35 conservation reserves.

Experts say the change in land use patterns, deforestation, development projects coming up near and into forests has led to higher incidences of human-animal conflict in the region.

Himalayan black bears and leopards have become a common sight in new residential developments, which have been built next to forests and conservation areas.

The wild animals have even been recently spotted in busy markets of the region’s main city, Srinagar, and were also found in high-security zones like the residence of former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.

Development with disregard

Wildlife experts say in the past three decades, Kashmir has seen a drastic change in land-use patterns, with a complete disregard for wildlife habitats and ecologically sensitive zones.

Concrete buildings are being built deep into the forests and hundreds of thousands of trees have been cut down to make roads and hotels.

“It has been free for all. The last three decades of armed conflict provided cover to all subversions and violations in the name of development committed by both government and private individuals,” said Sabreena Nazir, a wildlife scholar at Sher-i-Kashmir University Agriculture Sciences and Technology in Srinagar.

“These development projects have immensely disturbed the wildlife habitat,” she added.

“The buffer between forests and human habitation has vanished due to expanding apple orchards. Fruits, particularly apples, are one of the most attractive pursuits for a black bear,” she said.

Man vs. beast

In the lush hamlet of Takiya Yousuf Shah, located in the foothills of Pir Panjal forest range in Wagoora in Kashmir’s northwest, residents say they have no choice but to kill the wild animals stalking their land.

“Our cattle and sheep are not safe from them. Wild animals frequently come into our village. Last year, a leopard took our dog,” said local woman Jabeena Shah.

Nazir said most incidents of human-animal conflict have been recorded in orchards and human settlements, which have come up against buffer zones.

Official figures show that at least 50 animals, mostly bears and leopards, have been killed in the past year. Several incidents of violent mobs chasing and pelting rocks at wild animals have also been reported.

On Saturday, wildlife officials rescued a wild bear from Zurhama village in Kupwara after violent mobs were throwing stones at the animal.

Videos surfaced recently showing bears being pelted with rocks to death. The most shocking from the Kargil district showed a brown bear being chased and pelted with rocks on its head before falling off a cliff to its death.

“The attacks carried out by mobs on animals are lethal or cause permanent disfigurement. Every month, we see one or two cases where wild animals, mostly bears and leopards, have received fatal head injuries in mob attacks,” said veterinarian Umer Zahid at Dachigam National Park.

Kashmir’s militarization plays a role

Kashmir is one of the world’s most militarized areas, with armed security forces present in wildlife sanctuaries and forests in border areas.

Armed forces are also rearing dogs in their camps, and food waste littered around attracts stray dogs — a favorite prey for leopards — from adjoining villages.

“We have asked the army authorities to install trash bins, as the food waste attracts dogs, which become a target for leopards,” Dewan said.

Also, the Line of Control (LoC), the impenetrable double row of fence and tangled barbed wire scarring hundreds of kilometers dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan, has also impacted the movement of wild animals.

Black bears and leopards, fenced in on the Indian side, are being driven by hunger into nearby settlements, often with fatal consequences.

“Fencing on the LoC has disturbed the natural habitat of wild animals and limited their territory,” Nazir said.

With the degradation of wildlife habitats, authorities are now mulling how to habituate the wild animals by increasing the plantation of fruit and fodder trees in the forest areas.

“It will help herbivorous animals to get food within the forests and in turn, help carnivorous get their prey within the forests,” Dewan said.


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