worried as adolescent children who have witnessed the death of their
siblings/friends haunted by fear of the beast, while some others do not even
want to step out of their homes
Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir: Rutba Manzoor (12) was playing cheerfully in the garden outside her house when a leopard pounced upon her and dragged her into the forest. Her mother and sister could do nothing but scream violently.
“We are still in trauma. We cannot forget her face and mutilated body.
It haunts us all the time. The scenes of recovering her half-eaten body will
always remain as a scar in our lives,” Ishfaq Ahmad, Rutba’s grief-stricken brother, told 101Reporters.
Rutba, the daughter of Manzoor Ahmad from Bernate village in Uri tehsil of Baramulla district, was mauled to death on June 14. Her mangled body could be recovered from the nearby forest, only after an intensive search lasting for hours.
Human-animal conflicts in Kashmir have resulted in hundreds of fatalities in the past few years. Data accessed by 101Reporters revealed that from 2006 to 2022, 234 people lost their lives and 2,918 received injuries in animal attacks. The number of deaths has particularly gone up between 2011 and 2020. In 2018, eight persons were mauled to death, while it was 11 the following year. The next two years saw five and nine deaths, respectively. So far this year, 12 deaths have been recorded.
A thriving population
“Leopards are agile and intelligent beings. They camouflage themselves among the bushes and wait for the opportune time to strike. By experience, they have sensed that unattended children are the most vulnerable,” Shafiq Ahmed Handoo, Regional Wildlife Warden, Kashmir, told 101Reporters.
Like Rutba, Sameer Ahmed (13) of Kalsi Chullan was dragged into the woods on his way back home from the playground. “I was at home, waiting for my son to arrive. Sameer was only 40 m away, so I decided to go inside thinking he would follow. But that did not happen for the next 15 minutes,” his father Muneer Ahmed recalled.
“My daughter repeatedly called out to him, but there was no response. So I went to look for him in the neighbourhood, only to find his mauled body. I pray what happened to my son should not happen to other children,” Ahmed said, bursting into tears.
Local hunters joined wildlife officials to hunt down the man-eater leopard who mauled 3 minors to death at Boniyar village of Baramulla district (Photo: Mohd Younis)
According to published data, forests cover over 20% of Jammu and Kashmir's total land area. There are 35 conservation reserves, 14 wildlife sanctuaries and five national parks within the state's 15,912 sq km network of protected areas. Of late, the wildlife department is concerned about the increased straying of wolves, leopards, tigers, black bears and monkeys into residential areas of Kashmir.
According to conservationist Aliya Mir, an increase in the population of black bear and leopard has led to man-animal conflicts.
“The transformation of rice fields into orchards with apples and other trees have provided wild animals with safe hiding spots. Now, it is easier for them to find resting places close to populated areas, though without any human interference,” Mir explained.
With the fear of attacks on the rise, the wildlife department has established control centres in several places to ensure timely response and, if possible, prevent such cases. “We are witnessing an increased movement of wild animals even in township areas. Therefore, we have intensified our awareness campaigns. People do call us for help when they notice a wild animal in their area. Yet, the attacks continue,” said Shafiq Handoo.
Isolating kids at home
“His desperate cries still echo in my mind,” said Abdul Jabbar Ganai of
Kalsan Boniyar in Baramulla district, whose son Shahid Ahmad Ganai (14) fell prey to
a leopard while feeding cattle. “My other
son was present there when Shahid was attacked, but we were all helpless. The
leopard dragged him up to 4 km. Later, when we pinpointed the spot, we found
only his torn body,” narrated the distraught father.
Traumatised by the repeated attacks on children, panicky residents are resorting
to extreme measures. “We don’t
feel safe. The authorities are not doing anything to capture the man-eaters. We
do not want to send our kids anywhere, not even to school. We have isolated them
at home," a local resident told 101Reporters on condition
Muzammil (10), a resident of Kreeri, Baramulla, does not want to go to
school or even play outside in the garden. “I fear the leopard will eat me. I want to remain inside with my mumma.
I want to study online, as we did before. I do not even think of playing outside
my home without my mumma. Whenever I
hear any noise from outside at night, or even during the day, my heart
stops," said Muzammil (10), who is paranoid after watching social media
videos of leopard attacks.
A policeman stands near the forests, where man-eating leopards are suspected to be hiding (Photo: Mohd Younis)
About the psychological impact of such attacks on children, clinical
psychologist Wasim Kakroo said, “If parents isolate their children
at home, this will affect their overall development. Children have already
spent the last few years at home due to COVID-19, and if we do this again,
their mental health can be impacted.”
Kakroo suggested that children should play under their parents’ supervision. “It is tough on parents… The situation is equally traumatic for a child whose friend or neighbour died in an animal attack. Children who witness such incidents should immediately get help from mental health professionals as it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder,” he warned.
Edited by Gia Claudette Fernandes
The cover image is of children looking at the dead body of a 12-year-old girl Rutba Manzoor who was killed by a leopard in the Boniyar area of North Kashmir’s Baramulla district on 14, June 2022. Photo credits: Abu Bakr
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