Sunday, December 19, 2010

Leopard sanctuary in Gujarat?

By Rishi Banerji

Gujarat may soon boast of its very own sanctuary dedicated to another wild cat, the leopard. With the recent leopard attacks on humans in Mandvi taluka of Surat, a political leader has requested the state government and forest department to build a sanctuary, exclusively for the leopards.

Jagdish Parekh, president of Mandvi Nagarpalika, has taken up the task to create a dedicated sanctuary for leopard conservation and protection. Parekh has already identified a piece of land, located on the banks of river Tapi in Mandvi, for the same. The 250 sq km area known as Singhwaay Farm is owned by the state agriculture department, of which only two acres of land is being utilised by the department as a rabbit breeding centre, cow research centre and staff quarters.

"The remaining land is unused and if the government plans, it can create a very good sanctuary at the site. With constant reduction in forest cover, leopards have nowhere left to go. Thus they attack human settlements and their animals. Leopards are an essential part of the wildlife cycle and they need to be protected," Parekh said.

He added that the leopard is an identity of south Gujarat and with the region boasting of the maximum number of these cats, a sanctuary could help in their proper conservation. Apart from protecting the animal, the sanctuary could also be a tourist attraction, he said.

If the government doesn't help, Parekh has plans to create a small private sanctuary/zoo of 100 acres and has held talks with the Jain community in Mumbai and Gujarat, who are willing to help him. Parekh has been fighting for a sanctuary since two years, but has still not received any positive response.

"We are also ready to develop a sanctuary with funds collected through donations. There are around 200 leopards in and around Mandvi and I want to do something to prevent their extinction", adds Parekh.

Sadly, with repeated clashes between humans and the animal, the state forest department has issued orders to kill the leopards responsible for the attacks. With the leopard population on the rise and human settlements eating into their habitat, the situation has come to a head in the region. In the past month alone, four people including an 11-year-old girl have been killed in leopard attacks.

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