Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir For more than two weeks, hunter Shabeer Ahmed held his gun — a bore-gauge pistol that can fire up to 80 cartridges at a time — near his high chest and surveying the lush forests of Indian-administered Kashmir like a hawk.
The hunter was looking for a tiger that killed a five-year-old girl earlier this month while she was playing in her garden in the Budgam district of the Himalayas.
The girl’s family heard her screams and ran outside, only to find her doll and shoes lying in the mud.
Ahmed works for the local wildlife department, which has set up a wild animal nursery in Budgam, where the tiger roared on June 4 and killed the girl, whose body was found at dawn the next day.
Ahmed, who said he rescued nearly two dozen tigers from various areas across the Kashmir Valley and took them to wildlife sanctuaries or protected sanctuaries, was hired to catch the tiger.
“But the man who ate later became a full-fledged female who probably felt a great chase,” he told Al Jazeera.
“I got close to the human habitation before we finally set a trap for it.”
It was not an isolated incident. There has been a rise in human encounters with wild animals in the territory, with many describing it as a “conflict within a conflict”.
Both India and Pakistan, which govern parts of it, claim all of Kashmir.
An armed insurgency to demand independence from India or integration with Muslim-majority Pakistan began in the early 1990s and has claimed tens of thousands of lives since, making Kashmir one of the world’s bloodiest conflict zones.
Now, encounters between humans are creating new fears in a volatile region already grappling with decades of conflict.
Earlier this year, the region’s main city of Srinagar was shaken when an adult tiger crept into a housing colony. Black bears were also seen wandering in residential areas.
The increase in such encounters with wild animals escalated during the coronavirus lockdowns when people were confined indoors and the streets were empty. The authorities have advised those who live near the green belts to be vigilant.
According to official data, nearly 200 people have been killed and more than 2,000 injured in human-animal conflict in the region since 2011. As of June this year, at least 10 people have died and 141 others have been injured in such conflicts.
Experts blame deforestation for the uptick in attacks.
“It is a man-made disaster,” Kashmiri environmental activist Raja Muzaffar Bhatt told Al Jazeera.
“There has been massive deforestation in the Bir Bangal forest department in the past few years,” he said, referring to three forest chains that have seen the most attacks by wild animals.
Wildlife authorities say they are trying to implement safety measures, particularly in residential areas near forests.
“Once we get a call regarding the presence of a tiger somewhere, the first action is to send the team on the ground with a response time of no more than 10-20 minutes,” Altaf Ahmed, Chief Wildlife Officer, told Al Jazeera. .
“After scanning the entire area, our team looks for clues such as stains or feces and also sets up the most regular routine paths that the animal follows. Once the team chooses where they are, they install robotic trap cages.”
Cages contain a bait – dog or sheep – to lure the tiger. “This is exactly how the Bodgham Man was caught,” said the warden.
Environmentalists link the crisis to climate change in the region, describing it as an inevitable cause of diminishing habitat for animals.
“With climate change, floral biodiversity is being destabilized, leading to food scarcity in forests forcing wild animals to take to the streets,” Nadim Qadri, a renowned environmental lawyer from Kashmir, told Al Jazeera.
“There is also a misnomer among people that only deforestation is degrading their habitats. The quest to extract a rare medicinal herb that some species of mammals depend on for food is a cause of conflict.”
The area’s wildlife department plans to plant 80 percent of the fruit and forage trees to help the herbivores get their food inside the bush. They believe this will help the carnivores get their prey within the forest itself.
“There is no need to panic as humans and animals are supposed to coexist,” wildlife official Rashid Naqqash told Al Jazeera.
“But while animals have been sharing space with mankind since early times, the current crisis has arisen due to too many small green plants that have come too close to human habitation, providing a favorable environment for leopards. This is how they have adapted to this way of life and have begun to get crowded. in urban areas”.
Naqqash said there has been a significant change in land use in the region in the past 30 years, as human settlements have deepened into forests, and orchards and crop fields have outpaced wild spaces. This is how the animal’s habitat has been disturbed, he said.
“Humans have bypassed the corridors and buffer zones that were between the forest area and settlement areas,” the wildlife official said. “Since the human-animal interface has become high, so has the conflict.”
Wild animals are usually more aggressive during the morning and evening hours and may resort to killing humans during those times. This explains why the Bodgam girl is attacked in the evening.
“A cheetah usually attacks a small child because it will have the impression that it is proportional to the size of its prey. [sheep and dog] Talk said.
The authorities also set up 22 control rooms to answer SOS calls and launched awareness programs for residents.
“The Wildlife Department cannot stop these incidents, but we are trying to minimize the damage by using electronic and print media to educate people about potential threats,” Naqash said.
Meanwhile, in anger and pain over the murder of Budjam’s girl, hunter Ahmed said he was only expected to go for the kill.
“But we need to understand that cheetahs are classified as endangered animals, and the number of animals remaining in the whole of India is estimated at only 14,000,” he said.
“While appropriate measures must be taken to prevent cheetahs from coming toward human settlements, bush encroachment and deforestation must be halted in full swing to prevent these wild attacks.”