A tale of two cats

Over the past week, two big cats in two parts of the country have been in the news. In Mumbai, a leopard that was seen prowling Aarey Milk Colony on the outskirts of the city was captured by local people and the forest department. Further south, in the green hills of Ooty, Tamil Nadu, a man-eating tiger was shot dead by forest officials. The two events both go back to the larger problem of man-animal conflict in the fast disappearing natural habitats of India.

(The image above is a July 2011 photo, showing a leopard as it gets ready to maul a forest guard who was helping to capture it)

The Mumbai story

Before it became a busy city bursting at the seams, Mumbai’s thick forests were home to many kinds of mammals and birds. Even, now the grounds of Sanjay Gandhi Nationak Park (which is close to Aarey Milk Colony) do contain leopards. But as people and buildings mushroom (grow in number), these animals find themselves sharing spaces with humans. Neither party is happy about that – people get frightened when they see a leopard and try to chase or hurt the animal. The leopard, in panic, is likely to lash out and cause hurt. It’s not a happy story for either. In this particular case, luckily, the forest department and local people set a trap and succeeded in catching the leopard which by now has been released in Sanjay Gandhi National Park.

What happened in Ooty

Near Ooty, a tiger that had a hurt jaw had turned into a man-eater as it was unable to catch other prey. Again, the increase in the number and size of villages even in peaceful rural areas is bringing people into close proximity with wildlife. The man-eater found easy prey amongst the tea-plantation workers and people of 45 villages on the outskirts of Ooty. As news of the man-eater spread, life came to a halt in the area. Schools were closed and even offices and tea plantations were unable to function properly.

With their lives disturbed, anger against the tiger mounted, forcing the forest officials to shoot down the man-eater instead of tranquilizing (putting it to sleep) and releasing it in a forest far away.

Both stories (one happy, one sad) show how increasingly difficult it is for humans to share the planet with wildlife that have as much rights to life as we do.