Not a man-eater
The killing of a leopard spotted in Bhakkar district, by the villagers, should get organisations working on wildlife cracking
By Dr Raheal Ahmad Siddiqui
Jim Corbett, the famous hunter turned conservationist, described leopard as" the most beautiful and the most graceful of all the animals in our jungle, and who when cornered or wounded are second to none in courage." The leopard of Jhamat Shumali in Bhakkar district was not a man-eater. It was an ordinary animal of average size, which fought bravely in defense of its own life, fought effectively, mauling two persons and killing three dogs in the process, and dying gamely at last in front of hundreds of witnesses.
On February 10 this year, it was reported in the press that a leopard attacked and injured two persons in Jhamat Shumali village and disappeared in jungle. I phoned Gulzar Shah, DCO Khushab, to take immediate steps for the protection of this endangered animal. Gulzar Shah, a peerless DMG officer who cares for nature, called later in the afternoon to inform me that the game was all over. The press report was not the whole truth.
While driving from Mianwali along the Mianwali-Muzaffargarh highway, you can reach Dullewala Chowk in Darya Khan tehsil. Turn right and you would be in Bhakkar city after travelling for 50 kilometers. Turn left and within 15 minutes, you would be in Jhamat Shumali village, which lies along the boundary of Khushab and Bhakkar districts. I was in this village on Feburary 15 along with Dr Sajjad Aheer, a dermatologist from Khushab, who acted as my guide. We wanted to know more about this incident.
On the morning of February 10, Atta Muhammad noticed fresh pugmarks in the immediate vicinity of Jhamat Shumali village. This village is surrounded by vast tract of desert which, at this time of the year, is turned into green slopes covered with gram crop. Pugmarks on soft sand are easy picking. Being an expert tracker, he decided to follow the animal with his two dogs. These dogs called Katha, are a local cross breed of Grey Hound and Bullterrier. They were worth Rs30,000 each in local market, a crucial factor which sealed the fate of the leopard.
At 11.00am, the pugmarks led Atta Muhammad to dense Jaal tree, located in the centre of cultivated fields. His dogs attacked the leopard which was enjoying siesta under the low thick branches of this tree. These dogs were no match to the ferocity of the surprised leopard and within no time one was dead and the other was gasping for last breaths. Atta Muhammad blindly entered the fray with a view to save his costly dogs and to catch the big cat. Leaving the dogs aside, the leopard pounced on Atta, who protected himself from the frontal attack with his bare hands. On hearing his screams, people from the nearby tube-well rushed to the spot. The leopard, leaving badly mauled Atta behind, crossed the dried bed of Greater Thal link canal and took refuge in a small thicket at a place where the village road crosses this canal. With not much vegetation cover, the leopard was trapped.
Kallu, the district wildlife officer, arrived at the scene at 2.30pm and was confronted by a hostile armed mob. The local police refused to cooperate and withdrew from the scene. Kallu was threatened by District Police Officer, Bhakkar, on phone. Meanwhile, villagers set loose hunting dogs on the frightened leopard, which after killing two, jumped over the steep slope of the canal and tried to escape, taking cover under Khagal trees planted in straight line along the edge of fields. An excited crowd chased it. Shots were fired at the animal. Adnan, a 2nd year student, ran madly to have a closer look at the beast and tripped over the injured leopard. He paid for his curiosity. Leaving him on the ground, the badly wounded leopard limped into a hole burrowed by a porcupine. Later at night Kallu pulled out the dead animal from the hole. It was a young male, 2 and a 1/2 ft high and 7ft 2inches long.
Sitting in Dr Sajjad’s house in Khushab, one can see the mountains of Salt Range majestically punctuating the distant horizon. Somewhere in the north-west is Sakesar, a spot at an altitude of 6000ft which during British Raj used to serve as the summer capital of Shahpur district (presently Sargodha division). This area was full with game of all sorts. The colonial administration offered substantial reward to destroy wild animals. According to Punjab Gazettier of Shahpur District (1905) "between 1877 and 1882 reward was paid for three tigers, 11 leopards and 742 wolves. The number of animals decreased sharply. During five years ending 1895 reward was paid for 3 leopards and 152 wolves only."
According to late Nawab of Kalabagh, about twelve panthers were killed in the Salt Range of Mianwalli District between 1942 and 1967. The news of a wandering leopard in the plains of Khushab-Bhakkar corridor is a good omen for animal lovers. Perhaps some wildlife is still thriving in small pockets among these mountains.
The people of Jhamat Shumali had seen a leopard only once before. Ghulam Fareed, a village elder, vividly remembers that February 19, 2005 was an extremely cold day. That night this village and the surroundings received one foot of snowfall, a phenomenon not recorded in the last two centuries in Bhakkar District. The distant mountains of Sakesar in the salt range also received heavy snowfall. A male leopard was found basking in the sun near a tube well at the edge of this village. It was shot dead out of fear that it might turn into a man-eater. The same day three leopards were killed in neighbouring Khushab district. In Kartimar village, a leopard was run over by a tractor after it attacked a lad who had accidently stepped on it while cutting grass. At Shergarh Bridge in Khushab, a leopard was seen lying on the bank of river Jhelum in broad daylight. Two villagers foolishly tried to catch it in a net. Both were badly mauled and the enraged villagers killed the poor animal in retaliation. Another leopard was killed near Jauharabad sugar mill. The 19th of Feburary 2005 was thus a black day for animal rights activists.
It is a clear pattern that in those years winter and snowfall in Sakesar Mountains causes the natural prey (wild boars, porcupines and rodents) hard to find, the leopards descend to the plains in search of food. With little vegetation cover in the fields and its preference to walk along the established cattle trails because of soft pads, the leopards are easily discovered and killed by the villagers who consider them a prowling enemy out to destroy their livestock. The shortage of funds force the high ups of wildlife department of Punjab to sit idle in their offices in Lahore. The local District Police Officer was only interested in illegally acquiring the pelt of this ill-fated animal. It was only the DCO of Khushab who had shown real concern in saving this endangered specie from extinction. He is planning to run an awareness campaign about leopards in his district. It is also a wakeup call for organisations like WWF and IUCN to help out Gulzar Shah in his endeavours before it is too late.
The writer is an animal rights activist and can be reached at email@example.com
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