Jawai leopards and locals can coexist peacefully

Jawai leopards and locals can coexist peacefully
At first glance, the Jawai landscape seems like a large open area set against a spectacular backdrop of several small hillocks. Peppered with large boulders and rocks, the area is mainly barren except for some hardy, and scanty, desert flora. This is in the western side of Rajasthan in Pali district and the hills are remnants of the Aravalli hill range

You can hardly see any human population around here, except for shepherds that come he­re to herd their livest­ock. But what you can now increasingly spot these da­ys is the are­a’s growing leopard population. Leopards, which oth­erwise are one of the shy­est big cats, can be sighted in these parts on a rather regular basis.

According to a local conservationist, Dr Dilip Arora, this area covers about 300 to 400 sq km that is estimated to have a minimum of 40 leopards. Quick to capitalise on that, some tourist operators have already begun to arrange safaris here. This area does not have much prey base for these leopards, except for some langurs and wild hare, so the cats mainly depend on the livestock herded by the shepherds for their sustenance.

Arora says there has been an interesting understanding between the locals and the leopards since ages. Villagers tolerate one or two sheep being killed by these leopards, and the leopards, for their part, do not harm humans. There are many small villages spread around this leopard terrain and each has their own areas for grazing. The villages are Kothar, Sena, Jivada, Bisalpur, Perwa, Devgiri, Lundara, Kambeshwar and Kolar and around each village, there are at least one or two leopards who are dependent on the livestock for existence.

So, while leopards have always existed here, it is only now that tour operators have discovered this area for sure sightings. And because of increased tourist activity, the forest department has now become more active to save the area. Villagers, too, have begun to get more alert towards the sudden commotion in the area. But the government has come up with a plan to develop the area as a leopard conservancy, something that is being opposed by most locals who feel that will threaten their day to day lifestyle and dependence on the area. Also, many locals are waking up to the commercial value of the land and showing interest in developing properties in order to benefit from the tourist influx.

It is, therefore, important for the government to take the villagers into confidence and develop plans for conservation in accordance with their views as well. The leopards do not demand mu­ch, all they need is a safe place to stay and Jawai has done it better than many protected areas of our country. So rushing into creating a conservancy may not be such a good idea after all. The locals and the leopards have been living together in harmony all these years, and there is no real reason for disturbing that equilibrium now.

(The writer is a conservation biologist At Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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