Man-animal conflict will continue: B’luru conservationist caught in leopard attack

Sanjay is yet to regain full sensation in the forearm, but that hasn't stopped him from getting back on the field.
Man-animal conflict will continue: B’luru conservationist caught in leopard attack
Man-animal conflict will continue: B’luru conservationist caught in leopard attack
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Nearly five months after he was injured in a leopard attack at Vibgyor school in Bengaluru, wildlife conservationist Sanjay Gubbi is back to work.

The wildlife scientist calls the February incident an “accident”. He had been asked by the Karnataka forest department to sedate and capture the leopard that had strayed into Vibgyor. “The panicked leopard was trying to get its way out.” And for him, the close shave has been a learning experience.

“Life has always been a learning curve,” he says, “and we should use these experiences to make our commitment stronger, have an improved understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, appreciate the support we receive from family, friends and well-wishers.”

Sanjay, who had to undergo weeks of physiotherapy, has recovered for the most part, barring a few minor issues, he says. “I am yet to regain full sensation in the forearm due to the damage to tissues and nerves. Some parts of the arm are oversensitive possibly due to the regrowth of new tissues and there is a little problem with the flexing of the arm.”

While he started working from home soon after he was discharged from the hospital, it took him about three months to get back to field work. And over the last few months, Sanjay has been working on various research, applied conservation, and outreach activities.

“We have just completed camera trapping in different parts of Karnataka to understand leopard abundance in various forest areas, which is very exciting, and the results are now being analysed. We continue our efforts in assisting the forest department wherever and whenever they require our support through scientific and policy inputs. We are also preparing to work on a new project to address human-large carnivore conflict, building public support for large cat conservation in an area that has high potential to recover tigers and other large mammals but was largely ignored till recently.”

As a conservationist, what keeps Sanjay going is his love for wildlife. “The joy of watching a tiger, an antelope or a beautiful butterfly in their natural environments motivates our work,” he says.

But the rising number of man-animal conflicts being recorded from across the country, has got him, like several experts, concerned.

“Some wildlife species can certainly live side-by-side with humans without any conflict, but some species may be unable to do that without causing direct or indirect harm to people and their livelihoods. Hence, human-wildlife conflict can never be brought down to zero,” he says.

He goes on to explain, “As new officers take charge the learning from previous experiences gets lost, which needs to be documented and passed on. However, there can never be a textbook approach while handling these kinds of situations as every location is different, the attitude of authorities would be different and several other factors play a key role.”

Efforts to minimize such incidents will also depend on the way we respond to people who have been negatively affected by conflict with wildlife. Sanjay feels that “we genuinely need to work towards reducing conflict incidences as it affects lives and livelihoods of people who have been patiently accepting for several centuries.”

According to Sanjay, “a quick sympathetic response, attractive compensation schemes, better preparedness to tackle situations, serious implementation of long-term measures, proactively working towards improving people’s tolerance towards wildlife, which unfortunately is taking a nose-dive in this country, will all be the basis of how conflict can be managed in India.”

Crowd control and self-regulation by the media are two factors that also need to be considered during such incidents.

People should ensure that when wild animals, like leopards, sloth bear or elephants, enter a highly human dense area, the former should not crowd the place, he says. It is also important to cooperate with authorities during such incidents along with not spreading any rumours.  

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