‘Indian’ Leopards

BY UZMA KHAN

Animal societies are free, with no nationalities; they just belong to our very own planet Earth, while human society is limited by geographical boundaries. Though it may sound obvious, but recently, when a leopard was caught at Pasrur near Sialkot, it made headlines as an ‘Indian Leopard’ which was caught and put behind bars in life imprisonment in Lahore Zoo on January 23, 2014 to join another ‘Indian Leopard’, which was caught earlier. No wonder the ‘Common Leopard’ population is on the decline and in Pakistan, its stronghold is now restricted to the northern moist and temperate forests. Even in these moist forests, the conflict between leopards and humans continues, resulting in gruesome killings of the leopards. We continue to label leopards as foreign invaders and people continue to believe that they have been released by the wildlife authorities. We are undoubtedly very good at tagging everything as a conspiracy against us.
Retaliatory killing of leopards is common, especially in Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the media continues to portray these animals as ‘beasts’ and the killers as ‘heroes’. Moreover, the media has shown macabre footage where a leopard’s head was chopped and displayed on a pole. Outside the usual distribution range of the common leopard, a leopard was killed near Sukkur in December 2013. Similarly, in March 2013, a leopard was killed in Bahawalnagar, Cholistan area and earlier in February 2011, a leopard was killed in Bhakkar.
The incident of Bhakkar was very interesting. Atta, a resident of village Sakin Shahi, Jhamat Shumali, was attacked by a male common leopard on February 9, 2011, around noon. He was accompanied by his young son and two guard dogs and was busy in the field as usual when he encountered the leopard. He walked towards the leopard and tried to hold it and during this attempt, Atta was badly injured. The son of this hero screamed for help and women and men working in the nearby field responded quickly and reached the spot and shot the animal in the back. It was only when the leopard was injured that it attacked and injured another person and eventually, the leopard was sprayed with bullets. The incident in Keti Shah Reserve Forest near Sukkur was similar. Dogs were intrigued by the presence of a leopard in a thick forest patch and a man entered with the gun and resultantly was attacked by the hiding leopard. Obviously, as always, weapons overpowered the animal and the wildlife officials were informed later. People get away with this because there is a provision in the law to ‘kill in self-defence’ and people keep killing animals in ‘self-defence.’
These rare records of leopards in Sindh and Punjab need urgent protection rather than urgent eradication. Does the media ever question what has been done to the killers of leopards? How many people have gone to jail for killing an endangered species? What happens to the pelt of these animals? These questions remain unanswered because we have one standard answer: In Pakistan, innocent people are dying. No one even checks if the weapon used to kill a big cat was a licensed weapon!
We do not respect nature. Indeed, animals also need personal space and we have been invading those spaces. Whether it is large-scale encroachments through housing societies, within conifer forests with their undecided suo-motu cases to the use of forest trails during the time when a leopard is active. We used to have the Bengal Tiger and the Asian Lion within the geographical areas of Pakistan but many ‘brave hunters’ killed them all, with the last ones shot in 1906 and 1810, respectively. Let’s hope that our remaining big cats – the snow leopard and the common leopard – survive the odds.

-by arrangement with The Express Tribune