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Its eyes half-closed, the leopard appeared asleep. The bullet still lodged in its shoulder. As Jim Corbett looked at the animal that had proved his maneatre hunt, he thought this leopard was no fiend.
It was on June 9,almost exactly a hundred years ago from today, that the Rudraprayag leopard killed its first human victim. Man-eating leopards were rare then, unlike man-eating tigers.
The Gazeteer of Dehradun, for instance, lists no deaths due to conflict with leopards. Leopards total of the big cats declared man-eaters in Uttarakhand in the past 13 years. Of the 11 declared a threat to off in the past six months, seven were leopards.
A study calculated 60 leopard attacks annually on an average between and in the state. In Decemberthe Uttarakhand High Court ordered a ban on the killing of big cats declared man-eaters, seeking rehabilitation instead.
There is another change. Of the leopard deaths in India this year so far — in a population speculated to be 12, — 90 were at the hand of poachers. The big cat is found in all the states of India, barring islands such as Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Uttarakhand is estimated to have among the largest numbers.
Corbett believed the Rudraprayag leopard turned to human predation after scavenging on corpses of those who died during the global flu pandemic that killed 17 million people across India. Now one of the problems is shrinking space, with sq km of moderately dense forest, where leopards manater, lost in just two years in the state. While little has changed maheater the way the village leads its life since, dependent on the goats it rears, there has been no case of conflict with a leopard in the past decade.
The hunter had been roped in for the job of tracking the leopard by friend William Ibbotson, then the deputy commissioner of Garhwal.
Bya desperate British government had tried everything to capture the leopard, including hiring an army of Gurkhas, and failed. Corbett at the time worked as a contractor, but the reputation he had gained killing three man-eaters nearly 16 years ago sustained. In his 50s, Corbett came to the hunt armed with his favourite rifle, a. But over the urdraprayag one-and-a-half years, the leopard eluded Corbett.
Then, in AprilCorbett arrived in Bhainswara village, where the leopard had just killed a year-old boy. A century later, Bhainswara remains a sleepy village, seeming further from the district headquarters of Rudraprayag than the distance of 29 km suggests. Located amidst terraced fields and hills, it has only a few trappings of modernity, including cellphones, TV antennae and, recently, toilets.
Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag
In the mansater of a road, there is a winding dirt track. In the name of water, there is the same sole handpump. Brushing away questions on Corbett, village pradhan Deveshver Negi 25 is more keen to talk about their depleting water source. The last leopard kill in Bhainswara was inof a man out herding his goats. The population is down to from in the past two years alone. Our crops are failing. Underlining that they could live with the leopard, Singh adds that four months ago, he spotted a leopard with two cubs.
Between andthe Rudraprayag man-eater killed six people in Chopta village, accessible only via a narrow mountain path. Today villagers here wish there were more leopards. Chopta only has one resident leopard left, rudraprayg adult male. The village watches its descent into old age with trepidation, as this leaves the field open for a menace they struggle more against: But wild boars come in herds and destroy crops.
The leopards, on the other hand, leave them alone if undisturbed, adds Tripathi. The Forest Survey report shows that sq km of forest that acted as a buffer between the jungle and cultivated land in the state has been run over by projects.
Since Decemberstate forest officials estimate, nearly 50, trees have been cut for the Rs 12,crore Chardham all-weather-road alone, announced by the Modi government. It will pick up. The forest is gone, so rudrapraayag is no food for animals, who have come to the fields. They need to be better trained in dealing mzneater wildlife emergencies. Meanwhile, to contain at least one problem, the Uttarakhand government in May asked the Centre to continue allowing the hunting of wild boars tillciting loss of crops.
It cited the rise in wild boar population from 32, in to over 50, now. A plan to build tunnels and overpasses across and under it to facilitate the movement of wildlife has been pending since Meanwhile, on a 5-km stretch, 21 people have been killed by leopards sincefour in the past three months.
The Forest Department suspects that a single man-eating leopard is operating in the area — although residents disagree. The last victim, killed on July 9, was year-old Surat Singh Negi. On July 11, officials claimed the leopard who attacked him had been killed, by authorised Dehradun-based hunter Prashant Singh.
Anamika Singh of Khandgaon bears a scar starting from her forehead and ending behind her ear. The chirpy five-year-old appears to have put the incident behind her, and brags about it now.
Nirjhala Singh, 3, was killed on June Neighbours say the leopard took rudraprajag away in early evening. The family has since moved, abandoning their house. Following the latter incident, villagers burnt down 10 hectares of forest.
Both boys belonged to poor Dalit families, with monthly income of less than. Karan was days short of his third birthday, says mother Sarita Devi, 24, and they planned to celebrate with rice and chicken.
The state government gave Rs 3 lakh, the compensation it awards for such deaths. There is demand now to raise this to Rs 5 lakh. We will be safer there.
Every night the four would crawl into their one-room home, with a tin roof weighed down by stones, along with their livestock, two cows, two puppies and three goats. Diwan Ram says it gets very stuffy inside their hut, without fan and light.
The leopard attacked around 7 pm. The day after Deepak died, the Uttarakhand government installed an electricity line for their homes. There is power now, and the family has put up a single bulb. Bespectacled and wearing a faded polo shirt with frayed collars, Lakhpat Singh Rawat is a far cry from the image of Corbett in regulation colonial hunter wear — khaki jacket and shorts, a hat on the head. I have 50 kills, all man-eaters.
Rawat keeps fastidious records of his hunts on his laptop. He also keeps scanned copies of permits for each hunt. Sitting at his ancestral home atop a hill, that is at least a minute climb from Gairsain village in Chamoli district, Rawat speaks about how he became a hunter. Books from the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan lie stacked on his left, guns to his right. The first leopard he shot was an animal terrorising schoolchildren in his native village, that killed 12 inhe says. He had just won a district shooting championship, and thought he was up to the task.
We took its food, its home. If people took precautions like travelling in groups at night and keeping dense undergrowth around homes cleared, the conflict would lessen, he adds. Sarita Devi, for one, agrees. Since then, many people have seen that leopard again. In his book, Booth wrote that while a devout Christian, Corbett often prayed at temples and had erected a small shrine for the same goddess that Harinagri now prays too.
Rawat never hunts without obeisance to Goddess Bhagwati either. Located on the banks of the Alaknanda river, Golabrai village is a kilometre from the Rudraprayag town centre. In the book he wrote inCorbett also talked about the lessons he learnt. He also believed that a leopard became a man-eater after tasting human flesh.
Since then officials have asked families to not leave small children unattended near the forest or at night, to keep surroundings well-lit, and to clear shrubs. However, forest officials also warn against drawing any uniform conclusions. In Maharashtra, for instance, studies have shown that leopard population density in an area with human habitation has no impact on the number of attacks. Other studies in the state have shown that translocation of leopards can, in fact, increase attacks.
They leave no information behind. That is what evolution has taught them.
Rawat believes the leopard faces another drawback: Rawat talks about the time he killed a tiger in But when it died, there were protests. No one cares about the leopard like that.
Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag | Hunting
Killing the leopard and compensating for the human death is just Rs 3 lakh. Over ruxraprayag Golabrai, the grass-thatched shelters that housed the pilgrims to Kedarnath and Badrinath which Corbett mentioned are long gone, replaced by hotels with beckoning neon signs. Officials estimate 5 lakh tourists and pilgrims visit annually now, up from 60, rurraprayag. Also stands the mango tree, where a jittery Corbett had lined up that final shot.
But the stone on which stands his plaque and bust is chipped and surrounded by empty beer bottles. But Corbett is part of the past.