It has been a busy month for the Wildlife SOS team at the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Center in Junnar, Maharashtra. As part of an on-going collaborative initiative by the Forest Department & Wildlife SOS, our team led by Dr. Ajay Deshmukh has been conducting leopard awareness programs across various schools and villages in Maharashtra. These programs enable us to reach out to local communities that are living in close proximity to leopard habitats and help them to address issues pertaining to man-animal conflict. Being one of the major leopard prone regions in the state, Junnar is no stranger to the problems that arise from such situations.
The team recently conducted a program for over 120 students of Bhairavnath High School in Hivare Khurd village. They gave an insightful presentation on the leopard awareness campaign and interesting facts such as leopard biology, understanding their behaviour as well as their natural habitat. Dr. Ajay Deshmukh also shared simple forms of avoidance behavior which would prevent them from becoming vulnerable to a possible encounter with leopards in their vicinity. He went on to discuss the reasons behind the rise in human-leopard conflict and how it should be prevented for the safety of both the people residing in these areas as well as the leopard population. The children were thrilled to learn more about the elusive leopard that inhabited their surroundings and understand why it is necessary to live consciously with them. The program ended with an interactive Q&A session and it was very encouraging to see them take such a positive stance on the campaign. Informative fliers containing basic do’s and don’ts and avoidance techniques were distributed to the children so that they could share them with their families and friends.
We carried out a similar session for a group of 40 students in Rajpuri village. Range Forest Officer, Mr. Sachin Ragatwan also stepped in to share his personal experience in working towards mitigating conflict situations and the importance of this leopard awareness campaign.
This was followed by an awareness program at the Mahatma Gandhi School in Pargaon Village.
It is important to understand that tolerance towards these majestic felines and co-existence is the key to reducing such growing conflict issues. Over the years the Forest Department and Wildlife SOS have occasionally addressed the issue of relocation as most local communities were opposed to us releasing leopards rescued from various situations back into the same area. However, trapping and relocating leopards is not a very viable solution as it creates more chances for leopard attacks. Leopards are highly territorial and relocating them will cause the displaced animal to retaliate. Moreover, this will only lead to another leopard replacing the existing territory. Therefore, there is a need to adopt more long term solutions such as building adequate toilet blocks, covering up open wells and water tanks to prevent leopards falling in, coming up with alternative methods to prevent loss of livestock and avoiding venturing out at dawn or late at night without adult supervision or being part of a large group.