Leopard attacks in these Telangana villages is leading to widespread panic among the natives and disrupting their lives.

I think twice before coming alone Fear of leopard attacks halts life along PocharamAll images: Charan Teja
news Conflict Sunday, July 01, 2018 - 17:02

Fear has struck the hearts of villagers and cattle in villages situated along the stretches of the Pocharam Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhiknoor in Telangana’s Kamareddy district.

"They're afraid of going for grazing in our fields, as they were shocked by the incident. We brought them home as they were continuously mooing," said Lalitha Illandula, a farmer explaining the trauma of her cattle following a suspected leopard attack on a cattle flock, which killed one buffalo and a calf.

Last week on Sunday night, in a suspected attack by a leopard, two stray animals were killed — while one calf was apparently fed on, another buffalo succumbed to injuries.

The incident triggered panic among the farmers in Thippapoor, one of the villages.

This is the second incident in just the last month. During the first week of June. three cattle were attacked by a leopard in the agricultural fields of neighbouring Rameshwarpally.

The Pocharam Wildlife Sanctuary, spread across 130 sq km in Medak and Kamareddy districts, is known for a wide range of wildlife.

Boards on the road warning against wild animals

Locals in several villages of Medak and Kamareddy say there is constant movement of wild animals such as leopards and hyenas.

Illandula Balraju, who bought a buffalo and cow a year ago after twelve borewells he dug failed to bear water, says agriculture is becoming tougher for him. Balraju had been unwell for a few weeks, and stopped going to his fields, thinking that it was unlikely that anything would happen.

On Monday morning, he received a call from his son, who informed him that one of his cattle was dead.

This has caused panic among farmers who tend to neighbouring fields, who said that they were driving their cattle back early, as they fear a leopard attack.

Chepuri Ramesh and Kadari Raju, farmers whose cattle too was allegedly attacked, had the same story to tell.

Raju is still hesitant to go to his farm too late or too early in the day following the incident, and claimed to have seen a leopard near his cattle shed, "Less than a week ago, I saw a leopard near the farm," he said.

Raju, who has 10 animals in his herd, has now completely barricaded the cattle shed with an iron net in order to prevent attacks.

Chepuri Ramesh, when asked if he had seen the animal which attacked his cows said: "The neighbouring farmers told us that they have seen its movements here and there. I think they're venturing near human habitations in search of water.”

Forest officials visited the villages following the incident and conducted a postmortem, but they are yet to succeed in their efforts to catch the big cat. The traps were fixed in two places had to be removed as there was no result.

The larger problem

The rampant hunting of cattle by leopards started in December 2017, according to officials, In March alone, over 14 cattle killings were reported from Medak district. Leopard attacks were reported at the end of May and the first two weeks of June in the district.  Reports of alleged leopard attacks also emerged from Jhansilingapoor of Ramayampet mandal and S Kondapur of Chinnashankarampet mandal.

Forest officials told TNM the number of attacks could possibly be as high as 30 in the Wildlife Sanctuary stretch.

In Khajipally, where as many as three cattle were killed, this reporter was directed to Kasula Lakshmi Narayana's farm, nearly two kilometres from the main village, where his cow was killed by a leopard.

Kasula and his wife Muthyalu were grazing their cattle, including a calf which managed to survive the attack. Following the attack in March, a camera placed by forest officials recorded a leopard feeding on the dead body of a calf. For this, forest officials have given Kasula a compensation of Rs 8000.

"More than the loss, it has caused panic in the area. No one stays on the field beyond 5 pm. Labourers are also to come for work,” he says.

"I earlier used to come here all alone but now, I think twice. I drive the cattle back early in the evening," says Muthyalu, who takes the animals out to graze.

K Swamy, a young agricultural labourer, said that sometimes rumours also spread fear among the people.

"We were sure after officials confirmed that there was leopard movement. Sometimes, people just say they saw a leopard. How can we believe them?" he asks.

According to officials, a leopard moves within a 15 square km area.

DFO Medak Padmaja Rani told TNM that there are as many as six to eight leopards in the limits of Pocharam Wildlife Sanctuary.

When asked about the frequent incidents of leopard attacks, she said, "Increased encroachments, cattle grazing and disturbance of wild habitations are causing the animals to venture out”.

She also said that no leopard has entered human settlements but did enter farms close to the forest.

When asked about the efforts to rescue the leopards, she said, "For over four months, we have been doing everything to trap them. We are scared that people may harm them out of fear."

It has been observed that leopards make their move when there is no human movement.

Padmaja also told that they have instructed the villagers to tie up their cattle at home.

Leopards apparently choose to attack smaller animals over bigger ones. "In almost all cases, they have attacked calves so that they can feed on easily with less confrontation," the DFO said.

This was reportedly the pattern of most of the attacks in Medak and in Kamareddy, on the fringes of the wildlife sanctuary.

Is there a change in behaviour?

While a leopard is said to move within 15 square kilometres, these incidents are taking place more than 40-50 square kilometres away. Forest officials also suspect that attacks may have been carried out by hyenas or wild dogs.

According to Kamareddy forest officials, a recent census conducted showed that there were as 6-9 leopards in the region, but they couldn't be accurate since the count could overlap at the borders of Medak-Kamareddy districts.

Kamareddy Forest Range Officer Vidya Sagar said: “As of now, there have been four incidents of such attacks in Bhiknoor Mandal (Rameshwarpalli, Thippapoor, Ryagatlaplli) on the fringes of the Pocharam Wildlife Sanctuary.  Though we primarily suspect that it was a leopard, the postmortem reports of killed animals are yet to confirm it."

Vidya Sagar said that there are scores of prey animals in the forest and denied the speculation that the animals were venturing out for food.

Observing the growing attacks on livestock, Vidya Sagar opined that nearby human behaviour also contributes to a change in behavioural pattern. Excessive venturing of humans into their habitat may instil a sense of threat in the wild-cats, he said.

The forest officials, initiating massive trap drive, have suggested that the nearby villagers refrain from tying their cattle.

While leopards are said to be nocturnal animals, a few attacks were reported after dawn. Chekuri Ramesh from Rameshwarpalli, for example, said that his cattle were killed at around 8.30 am in the cattle shed.

Several villagers demanded that government take measures to tackle the conflict before it escalates.

Earlier, a study done in Kerala on the growing trend of human-livestock and leopard conflict by conservation biologist CR Aneesh and technical consultant of Parambikulam Tiger Conservation Foundation M Balasubramanian revealed that the paucity of prey animals is causing leopards to attack livestock.

The study said: "Leopards are highly adaptable animals surviving on a wide variety of prey depending on the habitat. Here, the big cats are forced to choose an alternative - preying on domesticated animals such as goats."


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