Man as Brute

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on

We cannot look upon this as "yet another leopard incident."

We need to make an example of a few of these people because such incidents are fast becoming the norm. Brij, Valmik, Divya and Ranjitsinh and I have been around long enough to remember how hard we have fought to prevent such incidents, how we had anticipated the fact that leopard-human conflicts will rise if the systematic destruction of forests at the hands of dams, mines, roads and urban sprawl is not arrested.

The Chief Minister of Orissa says in this interview that: "We will examine and see what can be done." Yes, he must examine it of course, but that has, sadly, been his standard response to all environmental issues for the past few years. Meanwhile forest after forest continues to be handed over to industry in his state, and animal after animal continues to be battered or otherwise killed. You will recall the killing of over 20 wild elephants in Orissa recently. Not once has the CM gone further than making "statements" because no one follows up on this or demands accountability.''

In the case of this incident, some journalists were clearly heard encouraging the mob to stone and beat the leopard. The journalist who was merely looking for sensational footage must be booked and jailed for collusion in the death of a Schedule One animal. We will have enough people willing to depose before a committee to nail the individual. Just sending an anonymous villager to jail for this would be a travesty. Equally, the National Board should ask its Standing Committee to go into the issue of leopard-human conflict and document the number of such incidents that have taken place after forests in the vicinity have been destroyed, degraded, encroached or otherwise disturbed, to establish the connection between galloping habitat loss and increased man-animal conflict, particularly with leopards that know how to live very close to humans... till they are caught off guard as this unfortunate animal was.

We have all seen the rash of killings, of tigers, leopards, bears, even cubs, from Assam and Kashmir across the country through Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh... all the way down to south India. Forest officers in the states are totally out of their depth. They cannot be expected to take on their own politicians, who present themselves as heroes to the public as the ungodly brutalisation of animals is unleashed. Rajesh has his hands full with such incidents rising in virtually every state where leopards exist.

India is fast becoming a powder keg. At the rate that terrestrial, marine, coastal and wetland ecosystems are being wiped out in India today, mob fury will soon not be restricted to wild animals... people will start turning on people as they compete for dwindling water and food supplies.