A leopard was killed by locals in Yajang C village, Mokokchung district, on Monday, November 6, raising concerns about human-animal conflict and conservation in Nagaland. The incident occurred after the leopard had reportedly mauled a man. Tokaho H Kinimi IFS, Wildlife Warden of the Wildlife Division, described the incident as ‘unfortunate’ and confirmed an ongoing investigation.
The sequence of events began when a domesticated cow near the NAP camp was reportedly killed by a leopard on Saturday, November 4, according to Imtionen, former Village Council Chairman of Yajang C village. This incident was followed by the sighting of the leopard as it circled the NAP camp at around 7-8 pm on Sunday night.
“The NAP personnel stationed there reported this to the villagers, and about 4-5 villagers went to the spot to chase it away,” he said.
On Monday, at around 11 am to 12 noon, the leopard attacked a villager who was on his way to the field, prompting villagers to rescue him. The injured man was successfully taken to the hospital in Tuli and later transferred to Dimapur, where he is currently recovering.
The incident was reported to the village council, and in a collective effort, the villagers surrounded and killed the leopard to ensure the safety of the villagers.
Kinimi expressed regret over the unfortunate incident and informed that it is a prime leopard habitat.
“Earlier this year, we received reports of leopards attacking cattle in Wameken. That entire stretch is a natural leopard habitat. Leopards also have to survive and coexist with humans, so confrontations are inevitable. However, what concerns me is the randomness of this incident. There is a great deal of uncertainty about how this incident unfolded to this extent,” he said.
He went on to express his confusion about the manner in which the attack took place, stating that leopards typically shy away from humans unless they are very old and cannot hunt, or their natural prey no longer exists in the vicinity. “I cannot provide any definitive explanation at this time, but an ongoing investigation will yield some facts,” he said regarding the incident.
Noting that leopards are classified under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, he mentioned that nothing can be ruled out, including the possibility that the leopard was provoked. “We cannot rule anything out. I have heard different versions so far, but I do not want to comment on them because my staff is currently investigating the incident. It will take a day or two,” he added.
He further informed that provoking any animals that pose a threat to human lives could lead to legal consequences.
Human-Animal conflict and conservation challenges
Imtionen shared that this was the third time that such an incident happened in the history of their village.
“The village is located near Assam, where many tea gardeners have experienced disturbances due to the presence of leopards. The tea gardeners rear cattle, dogs, goats, and hens, and the leopards often come from that side in search of food,” he said.
Regarding the villagers’ perspective on human-animal conflict, he said, they feel powerless to protect themselves.
“Incidents like this one, where humans are harmed or killed, are unacceptable. It reached a point where we had to decide whether humans or the animal should live, so the villagers had to take such actions.”
While the villagers are willing to endure crop damage and livestock loss, they say that there is no alternative but to eliminate the threat when humans are targeted. However, they express confidence in the government’s ability to protect them, given the presence of departments such as wildlife and forest departments.
“The public is also ready to support these efforts,” he said. Additionally, the village enforces a hunting ban, except during October to December. During this period, hunting is allowed, but it’s essential to note that hunting wildlife like elephants, tigers, and gibbons is strictly prohibited in the village to comply with the Wildlife Protection Act.
Nagaland’s illegal hunting issue
Kinimi addressed the challenge of ‘illegal hunting’ in Nagaland, emphasizing that hunting is prohibited in the state.
“However, due to Article 371A, we have been calling hunting a longstanding custom and taking advantage of it. Most species in Nagaland are protected, primarily falling under Schedule 1,” Kinimi said.
He described tackling the hunting issue in Nagaland as complicated due to diverse societal segments, some depending on hunting for their livelihood, while others engage in it for recreation.
“At the same time, there are educated individuals who engage in such activities for fun. So, how can we make the educated population aware? Beyond education, what can we do to raise awareness? Educated individuals also need to reconsider their involvement in these activities,” he added.
Kinimi stressed the need for increased discussions on these issues, highlighting the role of available resources and state support in outreach efforts.
When asked for a list of animals under Schedule I in Nagaland, he informed that the Wildlife Protection Act has recently been amended, reclassifying numerous species under Schedule 1.
“We still need to compile information on all the animals found here in Nagaland, and that task is yet to be completed,” he said.
“For Nagaland, we have yet to document all the migratory animals as well. It’s not just the Amur Falcon; there are many seasonal birds that come from outside. Documenting these will take time.
We still lack a comprehensive database. Our department has been working on creating a database, such as the Tokhü Emong bird counting initiative,” he added.
Regarding community participation, he recalled the Wildlife Week organized during the first week of October, where even the NBCC was actively involved. “This is how we are advancing conservation efforts. However, for it to be effective, the village leadership must commit to and take action against those who violate the legislation, because merely raising awareness is not the solution,” he emphasized.