Wild leopard attacks are increasing in parts of Kashmir due to deforestation and disruption of wildlife habitats.
As environmental changes start to become more stark in Kashmir, it has led to a greater rise in conflict between man and animal.
Drastic climate change has led to tremendous snowfall this year in the upper areas of Kashmir, decreasing food availability for wild animals and forcing them to encroach into nearby human habitats.
Deforestation is another major reason why wildlife can be found venturing into human settlements more frequently.
Aakib Hussain, a wildlife researcher said: “People gather around these animals which frighten them and their natural reflex of self defense, which is to attack, is activated. If left on their own they won’t hurt anyone unnecessarily.”
Instead of contacting the wildlife department whenever they spot any wild animal, people often try to kill them or chase them away, which results in casualties and sometimes fatalities.
“We have encroached on their habitat and now it’s time to pay back for our wrongdoings,” said Aakib.
Mushtaq Ahmad Ganie, 50, a wildlife helper posted in Hurpora forest range, was recently injured while rescuing a leopard in Memandar village of Shopian, South Kashmir.
“I followed the footsteps of the leopard and after a few miles I found him and tranquilised him, I was all alone on this mission,” Mushtaq said.
“I too got injured but my only intention was to save the villagers,” he added. Children and the elderly would have been easy targets if the leopard made its way into the village.
In this leopard attack, four people were injured along with Mushtaq. One was left with serious head injuries.
Wildlife officials often face the ire of charged up mobs during attacks, affecting their work.
Abdul Rashid Mir was sitting in his garden along with his wife Raja Begum, in Waderbala village of Handwara, North Kashmir. The sun was about to set and the daylight had almost faded away and then suddenly they heard a roar from behind.
“It was a female leopard, she jumped on our back and tried to attack our throat. Meanwhile people gathered near the spot, then she left the place by injuring our leg, arm, shoulder and chest,” Abdul narrates.
“We see these animals most of the time but they don’t harm us. This is the first time we have been attacked by any leopard,” Raja said.
Arshid Hussain, a pharmacist from District hospital Shopian who vaccinates people attacked by animals, has noted that animal attacks are increasing and more of these cases are being treated compared to previous years.
"ARV (Anti-Rabies injection) is given to victims free of cost and it’s necessary to complete four doses to prevent harmful infections,” said Arshid.
It was 11am when Bilal Ahmad Ganie, 43, was pruning apple trees in an orchard near his village when he was attacked. He fell from the tree and had a prolonged fight with the leopard.
“I thought I wouldn't be alive and was thinking about my small children. I was retaliating until a group of people came and rescued me,” Bilal said.
Bilal and two more men were injured during the attack. The incident left the villagers frightened and scared of working in the field now.
“We heard different sounds at night and it has been a week since we worked in the fields. We don't allow our children to roam alone in the village,” said Shamema Jan, a middle-aged woman.
In recent years, videos and pictures of animal attacks as well as of mobs chasing down animals or beating them to death have emerged on social media which has helped authorities to identify people who kill the animals.
Official records say that from 2014 to 2018, 49 people were killed and 828 injured in the Kashmir region as a result of the contact between humans and wildlife. From 2006-2010, there have been 103 deaths and 1,276 injuries.
These numbers will only grow as humans intrude further into wildlife habitat.