India-controlled Kashmir Srinagar – For more than two weeks, hunter Shabir Ahmad has held his weapon tightly-a caliber gun that can fire up to 80 bullets at a time-close to his raised chest, scanning the dense forest of Indian-controlled Kashmir like an eagle.

Earlier this month, when a five-year-old girl was playing on the lawn in the Bugam region of the Himalayas, hunters were looking for a leopard that bit a five-year-old girl.

The child’s family heard her scream and ran outside, only to find her doll and shoes lying in the mud.

Ahmed worked for the local wildlife department, which established a wildlife nursery in Burgam. On June 4, the leopard sneaked from there and killed the girl. She was found bitten at dawn the next day. Corpse.

The five-year-old girl who was killed by a leopard while the mourner carried the coffin in Burgam [Basit Zargar/Al Jazeera]

Ahmed said he had rescued nearly two dozen leopards from different places in the Kashmir Valley and relocated them to a wildlife sanctuary or sanctuary. He was hired to catch the leopards.

“But the cannibals who turned out to be adult women may have felt the mass hunting,” he told Al Jazeera.

“Before we finally set a trap for her, she has surfaced and is closer to the human settlement.”

This is not an isolated incident. Human contact with wild animals in this area has increased, and many people call it “conflict in conflict.”

Both India and Pakistan have full sovereignty over Kashmir, and they govern parts of Kashmir.

The armed rebellion demanding independence from India or merging with Muslim-majority Pakistan began in the early 1990s and has since claimed tens of thousands of lives, making Kashmir one of the bloodiest conflict zones in the world.

Now, the encounter between man and savages is creating new anxiety in a turbulent region, which has been struggling to cope with decades of conflict.

Earlier this year, when an adult leopard sneaked into a habitat, Srinagar, the main city of the area, panicked. Some people have also seen black bears wandering in residential areas.

During the coronavirus lockdown, when people are confined indoors and the streets are empty, such contact with wildlife has surged. The authorities have told people living near the green belt to be careful.

According to official data, since 2011, human-animal conflicts in the region have caused nearly 200 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries. As of June this year, such conflicts have caused at least 10 deaths and 141 injuries.

More and more leopards are captured and transferred to the reserve in Kashmir [Basit Zargar/Al Jazeera]

Experts attribute the increasing attacks to deforestation.

“This is a man-made disaster,” Kashmir environmental activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat told Al Jazeera.

“In the past few years, large-scale deforestation has occurred in the Pir Panjal Forest Department,” he said, referring to three forest areas, most of which were attacks by wild animals.

The Wildlife Management Bureau said they are working hard to implement safety measures, especially in residential areas close to forests.

Senior wildlife manager Altaf Ahmed told Al Jazeera: “Once we receive a call about the existence of a leopard somewhere, the first course of action is to send the team to the ground, with a response time of no more than 10-20 minutes. “.

“After scanning the entire area, our team will look for evidence such as dog marks or feces, and further determine the most normal routine path the animals follow. Once the team has selected their location, they will install an automatic trap cage.”

The cage is equipped with bait-a dog or a sheep-to lure the leopard. “This is how the Budgam cannibal was caught,” the warden said.

Environmental experts have linked this crisis to climate change in the region, claiming that this is an inevitable cause of the reduction of animal habitat.

“With climate change, floral biodiversity has been disturbed, leading to forest food shortages and forcing wild animals to take to the streets,” Nadim Kadri, a well-known environmental lawyer in Kashmir, told Al Jazeera.

“People also mistakenly claim that only deforestation can lead to habitat degradation. To extract a rare herb, some mammals rely on this herb for food, which is also a cause of conflict.”

Hunter Shabir Ahmad is looking for leopards in Budgam forest [Courtesy: Abrar Matoo/Kashmir Dispatch]

The wildlife department in the area plans to plant 80% of fruit trees and fodder trees to help these herbivores get food in the jungle. They believe that this will help carnivores hunt prey in the jungle.

“There is no need to panic because humans and animals should coexist,” wildlife officer Rashid Naqash told Al Jazeera.

“Although animals have shared space with humans since ancient times, the current crisis is triggered by many small green vegetation very close to human habitation, which provides a favorable environment for leopards. This is how they adapt to this lifestyle and begin to influx The way of urban areas.”

Nakash said that in the past 30 years, the area’s land use has undergone major changes, with human settlements deep in forests, and orchards and farmlands replacing wilderness. He said that this is the reason why the animal habitat is disturbed.

Wildlife officials said: “Humans have invaded the corridors and buffer zones that were once located between forested areas and settled areas.” “As the interface between animals and humans has become higher and higher, conflicts have increased.”

Wild animals are usually more aggressive in the morning and evening, and can even kill humans at these times. This explains why the Bugam girl was attacked at night.

“Leopards usually attack a child because it gives the impression that it matches the type of the prey [sheep and dog] And you can drag it easily,” Naqash said.

The authorities also set up 22 control rooms to answer SOS calls and initiated awareness programs for residents.

“The wildlife department cannot stop these incidents, but we are trying to make people aware of possible threats through the use of electronic and print media, and to minimize losses,” Nakash said.

At the same time, considering the anger and pain at the killing of the Bugam girl, the hunter Ahmed said that he was only going to kill.

“But we need to understand that leopards are listed as endangered animals, and it is estimated that there are only 14,000 left in India,” he said.

“Although appropriate actions must be taken to prevent leopards from entering human settlements, the encroachment and deforestation of the jungle should be stopped on the basis of war to prevent these wild attacks.”

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