Srinagar, 17 June: Regional WildLife Warden Kashmir Rashid Naqash said that out of 1650 incidents reported in 2020, in which wild animals reached close to human settlements, 1050 cases were dealt successfully by the department.
In an exclusive interview with Kashmir News Bureau, Warden Kashmir, Rashid Naqash said, “The basic mandate of J&K Department of WildLife Protection includes wildlife national parks, sanctuaries, conservation reserves, etc. and we have the direct jurisdiction over it and look after it for conservation purposes.”
“In Kashmir region, 2000 Sq Km of wildlife protected area, which includes national parks, wild life sanctuaries, conservation reserves as well as wetland reserves in different districts across the valley come under our jurisdiction,” he said, adding that the departments staff/employees; beat guards, block foresters, rangers as well as District Forest Officer are active in their respected areas 24/7.
“In Kashmir, 5 divisions, Wildlife division north, south, central, Wetlands and Shopian fall under direct jurisdiction of my department,” he said.
Regarding wild animal attacks in the region, Warden Naqash said, “Just to clarify things here, from the past 30-40 years, within our jurisdictional mandate which are the wild life protected networks in Kashmir, not even a single attack by wild animals has been recorded.”
“But if you talk about the Human-Wild animal relations, both have been living in each other’s habitat for centuries and at the national as well as international level the same scenario can be seen,” he added.
Warden Kashmir said, “Wild animals are not present only in the area under the department’s protection but also in the rest of the forest area (20,000 Sq Km) as well as in other human interacted landscapes.”
“Based on the satellite data and scientific studies, the fact is that from the past 40-50 years the agricultural, horticultural and land for settlements has changed to quite some extent,” he said, adding that the human settlements have infiltrated in the forest lands now.
He said that it is obvious that if humans infiltrate the space of wild animals, encounters are likely.
Talking about the history of wild animal attacks in Kashmir, Warden Kashmir said that the trend has decreased.
“We have records with us since 2006 and when compared with the data we have collected in recent time, the trend of wild animal attacks on humans has decreased,” he claimed, adding that in 2013, around 25 people were killed in several wild animal encounters whereas in 2020 only 5 precious human lives were lost.
“The claims of escalation in animal attacks are not true. It is due to the good network that news regarding these attacks circulates quickly among the masses which makes it look like the whole region is facing the same,” he said.
“Last year only, 1650 incidents were reported in which wild animals had reached close to the human settlements. Out of these, in 1050 cases, the wild life teams were successful in providing safe passage to these wild animals and lead them away towards their natural habitat, without inflicting any damage to human life and property,” Warden Naqash said, adding that the department is having a success rate of 90 per cent while tackling wild animal situations in the valley.
He said that around 300 wild animals have been chemically mobilized, 150 wild animals have been trapped and rehabilitated in their natural habitat.
“The incidents that are taking place across the valley—such as the one in Ompura, Budgam— these wild animals are getting good cover in nurseries, abandoned buildings, plantation zones, etc. And to feed on, the dog population is good for these wild animals,” Warden Kashmir said, adding that the trash management is not good in the valley, which attracts the dogs and in turn these wild animals scout for these dogs.
He further said that these wild animals, such as leopards don’t need a lot of land to remain in. They only take cover during the day and amid the evening hours venture around in search of food such as dogs.
Talking about the Ompura incident, Rashid Naqash said that the house of the victim is alongside the forest unit, which is highly dense and the wildlife department team from the past 4 years had established the presence of leopard. The people of the area were made aware and instructed to take precautions during door-to-door campaigns and through other mediums as well.
Warden Kashmir said that only two animals have been mostly involved in the attacks on humans, which are leopards and black bear.
He said, “Incidents related to black bears usually take place in orchids. It has socialized in such places. In forests, these black bears have to struggle a lot to find food but in orchids, within a small space, they get to eat a lot of food.”
“So when horticultural land provides ample food at the foothills of their natural habitat, these black bears reach out for it easily. At the same time, humans visit these spaces frequently as well, due to which the conflict interface has increased resulting in attacks,” he added.
He said that in most of these conflicts, the wild animals feel threatened and in its defence attacks the human being.
To reduce such attacks, the Warden Kashmir said that proper trash management has to be developed as well as people need to be educated about these wild animals.
Warden Kashmir Rashid Naqash said that the wild animal attacks are common across the globe and not just in Kashmir.
“Well developed countries across the globe, such as in America, we have seen wild animals enter homes, eat from their kitchens. But unlike the people here (Kashmir), those people are educated and they know how to provide space to the animal due to which minimum damage to life as well as their property takes place,” he said, adding that it is the primary responsibility to educate and make people aware about these matters here.
Warden Kashmir said that awareness and education camps are organised by the Wild Life Department at Tehsil, Block levels and Information Department of Jammu and Kashmir also conduct it.
“We provide information to the people about control rooms (wildlife), Dos and Don’ts and several other important matters as well,” he added.
As per the Warden Kashmir, in Budgam, 44 hot spot zones have been identified and the NGO (WildLife SOS) conduct door to door campaigns, inform people through mosques and other means about the precautions they need to take.
Moreover, Rashid Naqash said that even though no census or head to head estimation is conducted but as per the data related to the appearance of leopards in per square kilometre area, their density is high.
Regarding the space provided to wild animals after being caught, the Warden Kashmir said, “Problematic animals such as leopards—which are involved in incidents like child lifting or killing— as per advisories can’t be set free. For such animals, rehabilitation/rescue centres have been established and are taken there.”
“Usually such problematic wild animals are locked up so that there is no possibility of further attacks from them,” he said, adding that the main goal is always to rehabilitate them and make sure they are sent back into their natural habitat.
About the coordination between Department of Forest and Department of WildLife, Warden Kashmir Rashid said, “The department (Forest) is a part and parcel of our job. Our control rooms work jointly.”
“After the Ompura incident, three departments were working together which were the Forest Department, WildLife Protection Force and WildLife Department,” Naqash said, adding that all these departments work together in coordination on district and Tehsil level.
He further added that J&K Police as well as District Administration also works in fine coordination with the Wild Life Department.
About the speculations that Wild Life staff lack professional training, Warden Kashmir Rashid said that if it was so, then the Department would not have a 90 percent success rate, as supported by the data.
He said, “Be it chemical immobilization, physical restraint, trapping or providing a swift corridor to the wild animals, the staff of the department are very well trained.”
“The staff present at 22 control rooms, which have been established and are functional within the Kashmir landscape, are professionals and can rely on them to a great extent,” he emphasized.
Asked about the reason and people/departments to blame for these animal attacks, since the Wild Life Department has been performing their duty well, Warden Kashmir responded, “Human-animal conflict is not new in this world and has been going on since time immemorial.”
He said, “Since 2006 only, 240 precious human lives were lost and around 5000 people have been injured in these animal attacks.”
“It shouldn’t be about blaming any department, rather strategizing and planning things for the future to reduce damage or loss of life due to these animal attacks.”
He also assured that with the help of day-wise data available with the WildLife Department, a study will be done at a reputed institution, in which analyzation, scrutinization and keeping in consideration of the indication from the hot spot zones, a prediction model will be created.
“Based on scientific recommendations, the department will plan what to do in the next 10-40 years as well as the vision for the next 50 years, so that these wild animal incidents can be tackled and managed,” he said.
Warden Kashmir had a message to the people of the valley.
“There is no need to nullify the Wild Life Department, we perform our duty professionally and have always addressed SOS calls from the people,” he said, adding that people must put trust in the department’s professional capabilities and cooperate as well.