Valparai in panic mode
K Kannan, a worker at the Kanjamalai tea estate, tells us that life has changed in the hills after the recent incidents. "I moved to Valparai from Palani 48 years ago and this is the first time that I have been so worried. There is panic in the region as it was only last week that a woman was dragged to death by a leopard. At least 10 families in the hills have vacated their homes and moved to the plains. We are scared to step out of our homes after sunset.
There incidents are disturbing
Ananda Kumar, scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation, says that this behaviour of leopards is quite unusual. "These incidents of leopard attacks in a short span are distressing. We cannot figure out the reason behind them unless we do a thorough study. The incident where leopard dragged people away is a cause of worry. I hope the leopard that was captured by the forest authorities in the region recently is the same that attacked people."
Anamalai Tiger Reserve field director V Ganeshan tells us, "There is a good number of leopard population in and around Valparai. But the forests have been shrinking considerably day by day. A century ago, the density of human population was very less in the region. The forests were gradually cleared to make way for tea plantations. Today, people from the plains have also migrated to Valparai and the population is steadily increasing here. When there is depletion of forest areas human-animal conflict is likely to happen."
Leopards are nocturnal animals
R Mohammad Saleem, president of the Environment Conservation Group, says that leopards are quite common in the region and they venture out at night. "Leopards are nocturnal animals and are agile. They usually prey on animals that are short in height, for e.g., stray dogs and goats. Leopards are extremely secretive and cunning. They are supremely confident as they know that they can camouflage themselves easily and run fast. Leopards attack human beings only for their own safety."
"People should first understand that human beings are not food for leopards. But the recent incidents are shocking and distressing at the same time. According to a study on leopard behaviour, more than 90 per cent of leopard diet is wildlife prey. They are active at night, which is why most of the incidents reported are either during the wee hours or after sunset. Some of them happened at houses with a cattle shed next to them. The movement of carnivores doesn't depend on the availability of source of water, but of food," says Ananda Kumar.
"It's important that people living in the fringes avoid venturing out after sunset. If one has to go out, they should either have company or play music loud on their mobile phones. The idea is to make one's presence felt. One should also keep their surroundings clean and resort to proper methods of waste disposal. If consuming meat, bury the remnants deep inside the soil. When one sees an animal with their cubs or calves, he or she should stay away. Leopards tend to be extremely aggressive and protective of their cubs. Though human beings are not really their targets, it's better to keep kids safe. Adults become their prey when they venture alone at night or go for open defecation early in the morning," says Saleem.
Ganeshan says that most of the tea plantations in Valparai are not maintained well and the territorial leopard cannot differentiate one plantation from the other. "The region is also the breeding ground for the animal. Any human interference can affect them. Those coming from other regions should make an effort to understand animal behaviour and take adequate safety measures. We cannot call the leopard a man-eater taking a few incidents into consideration."