Leopard found dead in tea garden

Siliguri: The body of a full-grown male leopard was found in a tea garden here today.

Environmentalists, who suspect that the animal was poisoned, have demanded a probe into the death, the cause of which is yet to be ascertained. Forest officials, too, have not ruled out foul play.

“We cannot say anything until the post-mortem report reaches us. However, we are not denying anything either,” said P.T Bhutia, the conservator of forests (wildlife), north Bengal.

The carcass was discovered early this morning by some workers of Fulbari-Patan tea estate in Khaprail, 7km from Siliguri.

A veterinary team conducted the post-mortem after which the animal was consigned to the flames.

Foresters at Sukna, which comes under Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, said the autopsy report was expected in a week.

Recounting the incident, Ranjit Mitra, manager of the tea estate, said: “At 8.30am, the workers informed us about the leopard after which we sent for the foresters at Sukna (located 5km from the garden), who came and took the body away.”

He said about a month ago he had heard about a wild animal, possibly a leopard, roaming the tea estate.

“However, no sighting or disturbance was reported in the garden during the past few weeks. Also, the size of the paw of the earlier animal was much smaller than the one found dead today. It is quite likely that this could be a different leopard,” Mitra added.

The manager denied allegations that the animal might have been poisoned by the workers because it had been preying on their poultry.

Animesh Bose of Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation, however, feels otherwise. “We suspect some foul play. The forest department should investigate and take necessary action,” said Bose.

“A few weeks ago, villagers had lynched a leopard at Nagracata in Jalpaiguri. So, nothing can be ruled out,” he added.

Leopards generally give birth during summer — from April to June — in tea plantations located close to the forests. The animals avoid the sanctuaries during this period so that other big cats or leopards do not maul the newborn cubs. But this leads to tension in the gardens as the mother leopard starts preying on poultry reared by the workers and strays into human habitation.

Environmentalists alleged that though the leopard is listed in Schedule-1 of the Wildlife Protection Act and is a critically endangered species according to the World Conservation Union, it has not been covered by any conservation programme in India till date.

In 2005, the Wildlife Institute of India released an estimate (not a census), which said there were around 7,500 leopards in the country.

Source: The Telegraph