In our overpopulated country where natural habitats continue to be destroyed by humans to meet their own needs, the struggle to ensure that man and beast can live within the same space in some form of harmony is becoming an unattainable reality. The latest conflict arose in Batkhela, in Malakand division, where a wild leopard, which was reportedly captured in November last year after killing two children in Abbottabad’s Thandiyani and Galyat areas, has gone missing from the Safari Park of Rang Mala Peran, where it had been housed. Local residents say it poses a threat to them and could enter villages. They argue the animal is an established man-eater and have resorted to carrying guns with them when they leave their homes. The possibility that the animal could be killed, as has happened in Azad Kashmir and other places, is very real.
Leopards are an endangered species but in recent years, they have also claimed human lives. At least 35 leopards have been officially reported in the forests of Galyat, Thandiyani, Mansehra, Kaghan and Naran over the past few years. Locals say they have been moving closer and closer to areas inhabited by residents, while in Rang Mala, elders say they will have no choice but to kill the leopard if wildlife department officials do not act, as in this case where the silence of the department has added to tensions in the area.
The basic problem lies in the felling of forests, resulting in the disappearance of natural habitats and prey. In such circumstances, these animals will almost inevitably prey on goats, cattle or, in a worst case scenario, humans. Wildlife officials need to work closely with local people to tackle the problem. Villagers need to be educated about the need to protect trees and about the value of wildlife. Taking a wider view of things, such as offering locals an alternative source of fuel to cook and heat homes, would prevent cutting of trees. But officials need to make it possible for man and beast to coexist so that both are spared the threat of death.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2012.