The Power Games Around Leopards
Written By Dr Vidya Athreya
The Wildlife Protection Act 1972 clearly states that you cannot trap a leopard (Schedule 1 species) only because it has been seen. But this happens everyday somewhere or the other in India. Again, not because the leopard has threatened or killed a person but simply because it has been seen. Often in the shine of the vehicle or torch light.
I remember about ten years ago we were called to talk to the management of the Dahanu Thermal Power plant near Mumbai. Their campus was by the side of the sea and had a wall that was 10 feet high with barbed wire on top. But the campus was well wooded and had feral cattle as well, which were remnants of the village that used to be there before the plant was built.
Their problem was that one evening on the steps of the disused guard house was a leopard sitting and enjoying the view of the sea. They had CISF security guards who have very good torches and would be patrolling in the night catching the leopard’s eye shine. That was it. They wanted the leopard out.
We spoke to the management that there is no way your campus can be devoid of a leopard as the entire landscape around it was a leopard landscape. Interestingly just outside their campus live the Warlis who worship the leopard deity and have an icon of it in every village alongside their village deity.
All the leopard had to do was cross the 10 foot wall to move between two entirely different groups of people. One who were totally scared of him even though they were armed with guns and sitting inside their patrolling vehicles and on the other side the villagers who have no weapons and are accepting of the animal.
The pressure such institutions put on the Forest department is intense. They are not willing to have any dialogues but just want the animal out, by hook or the crook. To me, it is strange as it is a case of one government agency ensuring the other government agency breaks the law without even a chance for a dialogue simply because it is more powerful.
I have no moral of the story to give here, but every time I read in the papers about some air force station or some government institution that has set up a trap cage to catch a leopard whose only fault was that it was seen, it only makes me wonder about who should then follow the Wildlife Protection Act.
Illustrations from NINA Special Report