BIJNOR: “Sugarcane leopards” of Bijnor are giving farmers nightmares. There are over a hundred of them hiding in the cane fields. Between February and May, the breeding season, sightings on sugarcane farms go up to 20 a month.
Initially, farmers like Shoorveer Singh had accepted the presence of leopards sauntering through the sugarcane farms as helpful. But with increasing leopard-human conflict and the ever-hanging fear of death, they have made up their minds — they want the leopards to be relocated.
Forest officials aren’t sure how the relocation of so many big cats will happen. They have been telling farmers that the leopards are their friends. “They prey on dogs, goats, stray cattle, Nilgai alves, rabbits, jackals and pigs. Many of these destroy farmers’ crops. So, the leopards do help farmers,” Bijnor divisional forest officer M Semmaran said.
Farmers do not deny that. “It is true that the big cats wipe out the animals that destroy our crops,” Shoorveer said. But it’s not worth the risk, he believes. “They have started attacking us, killing us. We live in constant fear.”
In two years, nine people have died in conflict with leopards in Bijnor. In retaliation, humans, too, have killed leopards. First, on January 6 last year at Bhogpur, where a leopard was shot dead. An FIR was lodged against 80 people. And the second time, a few months ago at Mahojam Sadat, where a leopard was stoned to death. Three people were booked. Why it recurs is shrinking territory.
Bijnor has two forest divisions — Bijnor and Najibabad — that cover 11 ranges over a 50,000-hectare area. Out of that, a forest officer said, about 1,000 hectare has been encroached upon by some 220 Van Gujjar families and farmers. They have over 3,200 cattle heads, who graze on forest land. And within the Bijnor forest division lies the Amangarh Tiger Reserve, home to 24 tigers now, up from 13 less than a decade ago.
“Grasslands are shrinking, herbivores are moving towards farm lands and tigers are expanding their territory. Leopards, following their prey base and leaving the ever-increasing territory of tigers alone, are moving away to sugarcane farms on the fringes,” said Saad Bin Asif, a registered hunter who has killed 13 maneaters.
“Some cases of conflict have come up. We have urged farmers to be cautious and have set up a task force. We have a tranquiliser gun. If any animal turns aggressive, it will be relocated,” DFO Semmaran acknowledged. The forest department has also advised the use of whistles, drums and helmets while farming. This, the farmers counter. Shoorveer said, “Instead of asking us to change how we live and work, the forest authorities should relocate the leopards.”