By Sujit Chakraborty
Agartala/Shillong/Guwahati– Three northeastern states — Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram — are taking steps to protect the endangered clouded leopard, which was listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
In India, clouded leopards are restricted to the country’s northeast region — the eastern Himalayas, the Assam valley, and the hills south of the Brahmaputra.
According to an official document, Mizoram’s Dampa Tiger Reserve holds the distinction of housing the highest number of clouded leopards in Southeast Asia.
The density of population of clouded leopards, locally known as “Kelral”, is 5.14 per 100 sq km in the reserve, situated along the Mizoram-Bangladesh and Tripura.
A Forest officials said that in 2018, India added clouded leopards to its recovery programme for critically endangered species to aid more research and strengthen conservation efforts.
“The state animal of Meghalaya, the Clouded Leopard, a beautiful spotted cat, is a majestic sight to watch. Sadly, it has been declared vulnerable by the IUCN. Let us work towards preserving such rare species,” Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma tweeted on the occasion of the ongoing wildlife week.
Meghalaya wildlife officials said that they have taken steps to protect the habitats of the Clouded Leopard and their captive breeding.
The officials said that the Indian Olympic Association is considering holding the 39th National Games in Meghalaya in 2023 and the Meghalaya state animal ‘Clouded Leopard’ has been chosen as the mascot for the National Games.
“Besides the governmental steps, we are trying to make people conscious about the significance of the conservation of the endangered clouded Leopard,” a Meghalaya forest official told IANS on condition of anonymity.
Tripura’s Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary and Clouded Leopard National Park have also taken a series of steps for captive breeding of the species in the zoo. “Following the guidelines of the Zoo Authority of India, we have started the process of captive breeding in the zoo situated inside the Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary and Clouded Leopard National Park,” Wildlife Warden Biplab Datta told IANS.
He said that among the zoos in the country, the highest number of 9 Clouded Leopard is in the Sepahijala zoo (in western Tripura). “There are at least five wild Clouded Leopards in the Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary,” Datta claimed.
Wildlife scientists and the Mizoram Forest Department indicate that clouded leopard density in Dampa Tiger Reserve is perhaps the highest among forests of South and South-East Asia where the species is found.
The state’s Environment, Forests and Climate Change Department in recent years placed several camera traps at different places across the Dampa Tiger Reserve, which captured the clouded leopards 84 times. Wildlife expert Apurba Kumar Dey said that like the clouded leopard, much of the wildlife in India’s northeast remains elusive, poorly understood, and inadequately protected.
A six-year-old boy was recently mauled to death by a leopard in Maligaon, on the outskirts of Assam’s main city of Guwahati. Maligaon, headquarters of the North East Frontier Railways and a place prone to human-leopard conflicts, comes in the Guwahati Municipal Corporation area, which encircles several big hills and seven reserve forest areas.
Earlier also several people were injured after being attacked by leopards in Maligaon and the adjoining areas. Wildlife activists said that the habitats of leopards and other wild animals have been shrinking over the decades due to encroachment by the people leading to man-animal conflict.
There have also been incidents in the recent past when angry mobs killed leopards and other wild animals. Wildlife activist Mubina Akhtar said that the hills are where the leopards live but people have been encroaching upon their habitats.
“There are seven reserve forest areas adjoining Guwahati city. The forest department has neither demarcated them properly nor has it put up any signs or notice boards, resulting in encroachment of forest land,” Akhtar told IANS over phone.
She said: “Since 2010, men and wild animal conflicts are rising in Guwahati areas. However, authorities are doing nothing to stop such incidents.” (IANS)