THE Presentation Convent School had to issue an order to close down the school on Monday, September 12th 2022 after a small video clip of a bear and her cub roaming in Jawahar Nagar, Raj Bagh locality went viral.
The Presentation Convent school management in its press statement had said:
“The school will remain closed tomorrow (12/9/2022) and the exam scheduled for tomorrow will be conducted the day after tomorrow (13/9/2022). Praying for the safety of everyone”
The video had created a lot of chaos and confusion among the Srinagar residents in general and people of Rajbagh ,Jawahar Nagar and adjoining localities in particular as it is for the first time in recent history that wild animals had been found roaming in this area.
As per media reports, a 40 year old man was injured in the bear attack around Lal Mandi area which is located in between Rajbagh and Jawahar Nagar. The official sources say Fayaz Ahmad Bhat, a resident of Habba Kadal Srinagar who was working as a security guard in a private school had been attacked by the wild bear. It is presumed that same bear that had been roaming around the area for the last 2 days had attacked Fayaz. The said person was left severely injured as the wild animal attacked his face and upper limbs. He was shifted to SMHS hospital Srinagar where his condition is said to be stable now. The Srinagar Police in a tweet had asked people of Rajbagh , Jawahar Nagar and Lal Mandi to stay indoors until the bear and her cub were caught. After the wild animal was trapped along with the cub , the wildlife officials sent them to Dachigam national park where they were set free deep inside the forest area.
After a long chase by Wildlife officials, Rajbagh police station cops assisted by CRP,the bear and her cub were rescued around 3 am on September 12th .
Srinagar and Budgam: New Habitats for Wild Animals
The Himalayan Leopards are known for their shy and secretive behaviour. They live a solitary life, are nocturnal and spend their nights hunting instead of sleeping. However, in the last several years, their behaviour has changed especially in Kashmir valley.
These wild animals, typically found only in the alpine mountains and forests of Kashmir, are now seen in villages outside the demarcated forests since a decade. Ironically, they have made the outskirts of Srinagar their new habitat especially around the Budgam districts surrounding Srinagar airport area.
More than a year back, a four-year-old girl, Adha Skakeel, was mauled by a leopard near Ompora housing colony in Budgam. She was playing in the lawns of her house on the evening of June 5th last year when a leopard jumped from the boundary wall and snatched her away. A massive search operation was launched by the wildlife and police. After more than an hour, some local residents found the girl’s necklace and slippers in the nearby forest. The next day, her mutilated body was found in a nearby newly grown forest.
Last year too, a leopard had created panic in Baghi Mehtab area of Srinagar when it was seen jumping from one boundary wall to another around a housing colony. The said colony is located merely 6 kms from Srinagar city centre. It was presumed that the leopard had come down from the Humhama area near the airport as more than a dozen leopards are believed to have made their habitat around Karewa Damodar area which is an elevated plateau-like area locally called Wodder. The Wodder is approximately spread over a 25 square kilometre area. Srinagar international airport is situated nearby.
For the last 10 to 12 years, leopards were frequently seen around different locations of Karewa Damodar. Infact, the entire Karewa has been fenced by the Defence Estates Department and Airport Authority of India. However, there are many locations where we find thick forest-like patches. These are the areas that were developed by the Department of Social Forestry and J&K Forest Department in the last 30 to 35 years. These areas located around Humhama, Ompora , Kralpora, Wathoora and Rangreth areas are like thick jungles which have now become a habitat for several leopards.
Leopards can be seen roaming freely in villages located just outside Srinagar airport. Only two weeks back, a leopard with two cubs was seen in Banhar Wathoora village. The leopard had taken away some puppies from the village. For 3 days, the leopard would roam around the village and the video had gone viral on social media as well.
This author who lives around the same area had informed Regional Wildlife Warden Rashid Naqash who sent a team of officials. They installed a trap but the wild animal could not be trapped even as the cage was kept in the area for several days.
Leopards don’t attack humans except for when they are hungry and even then, they only attack small children. However, when it comes to bears, they attack even adult men and women.
Such wild animals were typically adjusted to their habitats religiously. They feasted on the rich diversity that wildlife had to offer. However, over the years, with the meddling in their habitats, they have taken to developing new food habits. Wild animals such as bears have been found feasting near dumping sites and adapting to trash over berries. This loophole in our waste management techniques must be factored in while identifying the reasons behind the man vs. wild conflict.
Bear in Rajbagh
When we see old pictures of Shankaracharya hill (Sulieman Taing) we don’t see any vegetation around it. Even in the old Bollywood movies of the 1960s or 70s which have been shot around Dal Lake, we can see the Shankar Acharaya hill looking completely barren with no vegetation. From the late 1980s, the Urban Forestry Division started planting Kail trees around this hill and now we can see a thick jungle around this hill from at least three sides i.e North , South and East. There is a substantial cover of vegetation and growth of forest around Shankaracharya hill and bears come down from the said hill to eat cherries in many personally owned lawns.
It is a possibility that the bear and her cub that were seen in Rajbagh recently, might have come towards this locality from the Shankar Acharaya hill via Gupkar road and then entered the Rajbagh area through Abdullah bridge. There is no other area in Srinagar uptown from where this wild animal would have gone to Rajbagh.
In Karewa Damodar(Airport side), only leopards are found and there is no evidence that any bear has ever even been spotted. This makes it quite plausible hat the said bear had entered Rajbagh from Shankar Acharaya mountain via Gupkar road.
The wildlife officials and local residents living near Srinagar airport area told me on several occasions that leopards who live in Karewa Damodar or other Karewas of Budgam kill and eat dogs. This is their main diet and every night they go out to kill dogs. As there is enough dog population in Kashmir which is infact increasing day by day on a very large scale, the leopards from alpine forests come down to villages and get settled around secluded areas or thick man-made forests around Karewas. Similarly, the afforestation that has taken place in Srinagar and its surrounding areas like Shankaracharya hill or Zabarwan hills plus growth of stone fruit trees around Zabarwan foothills has given rise to bear population as well. Some decades back the leopards would hardly eat the dogs as they would kill and prey only wild animals like deers, wild goats or sheep but now it seems their food habits have changed with the change in their habitat. This change has also been facilitated by trash dumped in various parts which has now become a part of the wild animals’ eating habits.
This makes it clear that the attack from wild animals is hardly a case of animals-gone-rogue. This combat is man-made and must be mitigated accordingly.