Kullu-Several videos of the ‘leopard incident’ in Tirthan Valley, Kullu district, Himachal Pradesh, are going viral in India and would soon spread to international media. Anyone who is watching these videos is wondering as to how a wild predator who avoids humans, habitats, roads etc. and is a shy feline happened to be playing with people amid a huge gathering of people around him, traffic jam, and a lot of noise. It’s just like a fantasy to see a wild animal having such close, friendly contact with humans despite not being familiar with humans. Not only it was dangerous for the animal itself but also the ignorant people chasing him with mobile cams in their hands. That’s what we could infer from the response given by forest officials after watching the behavior of the people in these video clips. Himachal Watcher has also compiled several video clips of the incident.
A lot of our curious readers had been writing regarding the incident, so we talked to people who actually have knowledge regarding wildlife and animal behaviour in order to find a possible explanation for this rare leopard-man contact. It turned out, opposite to the fun people were having with this animal, it was a sensitive matter for the wildlife officials.
We talked to the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Banjar, Praveen Thakur and HPFS, Sachin Sharma, who is currently posted as DFO, Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP). Readers had been asking us questions; Where did it come from? How did it become so friendly with humans? What happened to the cub later? So we requested DFO, Banjar, Praveen Thakur, to answer these and some other important questions related to the incident.
What you already know is that a leopard came out of the wild onto the road near Sarchi – Nagladi bridge in Tirthan valley on January 14. This belt comes under the Great Himalayan National Park. People stopped their vehicles and came out to record videos. The leopard was seen playfully grabbing different people. A traffic jam and a huge gathering of people, mostly locals, were seen in the videos. It was something that people had never seen, at least in this part of the world.
The DFO, GHNP, also admitted that this is highly uncommon to see such ferocious wild predator getting so friendly within a few hours after contact with humans. But in this case, it was just a cub, aged about seven to eight months.
“I haven’t seen or heard of such an incident where a wild leopard became so friendly with humans that he started to play with them. These animals are generally shy and smartest in the feline families. They avoid humans and their habitats,” he said.
When asked whether a cub of its age, considering strength and growth of nails and teeth, was capable of inflicting harm or not, he said that on sensing a threat it can. He condemned the behaviour of the people as it was not only dangerous for them but also the animal.
“Amid such a chaotic environment, the behaviour of any wild animal would be unpredictable. If not intentionally, the cub could have inflicted minor injuries to someone while playing. In that case, the reaction of people could have been hostile and things could have gone wrong,” he said.
In his opinion, this rare instance can’t be termed as a result of man-animal conflict. No other instances where these animals attacked or caused harm to humans in this region have been reported, he said.
The DFO, Banjar, Praveen Thakur said he was also surprised but also gave an explanation.
“It was an eight- to-nine-month-old cub, who got separated from its mother. The mother with its cubs lives in a nearby forest in a territory of four to five square kilometers. There was an incident of fire in the area and the cub, most probably, got separated from the mother due to it,” the DFO told Himachal Watcher.
Regarding the friendly behaviour of this cub, he said,
“Several videos are going viral on social media where the cub was looking comfortable and friendly with humans amid a crowd. Adult leopards show behavioural changes before becoming mature animals. They mostly avoid humans. But it was not an adult leopard, but just an 8 to-9-month-old cub,” he said.
“However, the cub did not get friendlier at the starting and was avoiding vehicles. As per my knowledge, for the first few hours, the cub was seen roaming around in a distress and avoiding humans and vehicles. (Watch Video). Initially, a couple of vehicles stopped to see the cub. As it was just a cub unable to hunt and survive at its own, it got friendlier after sensing that humans were not harming and, thus, were no threat. Cubs can get friendly on sensing no threat. Similarly, cubs and young offspring of several other animals can get friendlier.”
If watched video clips carefully, the cub was curious and trying to explore this new environment. But at the same time it was distressed as it had gotten separated from its mother and was in a environment not natural for it.
Citing a previous case, the DFO said,
“Not long time ago, we had rescued a bear cub. He had also become friendly within no time.”
“In the present case, we have identified the family. Mother lives in the forest not far from our Rest House. The area falls under the Great Himalayan National Park and is not far from the road. The family is not entirely unfamiliar with traffic and human movement,” he told HW.
In the current incident, he said that it’s a case of separation of the cub from mother.
A forest fire was reported in the territory of this family, and the mother or the cub got stuck somewhere due to it, resulting in a separation.”
He confirmed hearing calls from its mother. Mother would make a particular sound as a form of a call when trying to find its cubs, he explained.
He said that the department received the information regarding the presence of this cub among humans a little late. On receiving information, a rescue team was dispatched, which reached the spot within half-an-hour.
The team caught the cub with a net without much difficulty, he said. As it was healthy and had no injury or disease, it was released into its natural habitat as guidelines say that in such a case the animal should be released to its natural habitat as soon as possible to reduce distress.
He also said that teams are continuously monitoring the movement of the cub to ensure that it reunites with its mother and do not venture into human habitats or comes near the road again.
The mother and the cub are only a couple of kms distance apart. The cub would also make calls, which would help the mother find it, he said.
He rejected speculations of this cub being raised as a pet.
“His mother would have not been making calls if the cub was raised as a pet. These calls imply that the cub got separated very recently,” he said.
“After consulting wildlife experts, we have decided that in case the cub is seen venturing into human habitats or places having human presence and displaying same friendly behaviour again, then it would have to be captured and sent to the rescue centre in Gopalpur in Kangra district,” he said.
If it would grow up while remaining in friendly contact with humans, it might not get capable of attaining hunting skills to survive at its own in the wild. Moreover, these animals could inflict grieve injuries unintentionally while playing.
However, we are certain that the mother would soon find the cub. We will keep monitoring it until the mother stops making distress calls, he said.
On being asked whether this cub was capable of hurting or injuring a human, the DFO said that cubs of this age lack hunting skills, and it’s mostly after one year of age that the mother starts training them.
The DFO, however, expressed more concern over the behaviour of the people than that of the animal.
Most of these people were locals and they are often made aware about dos and don’t on an encounter with a wild animal.
“As soon as I came across the videos, I contacted a few people who were present on the spot including the Pradhan of the area and told him to ask people to stay away from the cub and to not chase him for photos and videos. I had even spoken to the local police to help manage the situation as people were not even listening to our Rangers,” he told HW.
“It was a complete nuisance that the people were creating by causing a traffic jam, chasing the cub, and trying to get close to it. We are trying to identify some people visible in the video deliberately going near the cub,” he added while informing that there are provisions of three to six months of imprisonment for those creating nuisance for or teasing wild animals, especially those protected. Leopards are protected under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act.
He urged the people to avoid wild animals if they happen to encounter them. Stay away from them, do not gather around and obstruct their path. Left alone, on sensing no threat, these animals eventually find their course and go back to their natural habitat, he said. In the current case, the situation would have led to chaos if it was a mature leopard, he said.
Even if you want to watch the animal then, at least, maintain a safe distance or remain in the vehicle, he added.
When asked whether this instance can be related to man-animal conflict and is a matter of concern or not, the DFO said,
“This can’t be termed as a matter related to man-animal conflict and isn’t a matter of concern as long as animals do not enter human habitats and kill livestock or attack humans. Moreover, such judgement can’t be made based on a single instance.”
PIL Filed in HP High Court Re-Ignites Quest for Recognizing Pahari (Himachali) as Hill State’s Official Language
Shimla- November 10, 2021, Himachal Pradesh High Court on Monday passed an order concerning a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to recognize Pahari (Himachali) as an official language of the state. The petition also sought effective steps on the part of the government to preserve and promote the Pahari language in the State as its culture and language give it a distinct identity.
The Public Interest Litigation was filed by Arsh Dhanotia with a prayer that the state be directed to declare Pahari (Himachali) as one of the official languages in the State of Himachal Pradesh in any script and also promote further research towards a long-term formal Pahari (Himachali) nuclear language structure and nuclear Tankri script.
Bhawani Pratap Singh Kutlahria, the advocate for the petitioner, argued in the court that the State Government be directed to promote Pahari (Himachali) and other local languages as the medium of instruction in primary and middle-level schools as per the New Education Policy, 2020. On behalf of the petitioner, he also prayed the court to direct the state government to include Pahari (Himachali) language as a separate category for the 2021 Census and simultaneously undertake an awareness campaign to create awareness amongst the masses, especially the youth of the State who speak Pahari (Himachali), to get it marked as their mother tongue in the upcoming Census.
A bench of Chief Justice Mohammad Rafiq and Justice Sabina while disposing off the PIL stated,
“The direction as has been prayed for, cannot be issued to the State Government until and unless it is established on record that the Pahari (Himachali) language has its own script and that a common Pahari dialect is spoken throughout the State of Himachal Pradesh. We, however, set the petitioner at liberty to approach the Department of Language Art & Culture to the Government of Himachal Pradesh with his demand for undertaking research to promote a common Pahari (Himachali) nuclear language structure and nuclear Tankri script. If the petitioner approaches the respondents-State through its Additional Chief Secretary (Language Art & Culture) to the Government of Himachal Pradesh) for the prayer made in the Civil Writ Public Interest Litigation, it would be for the said authority to consider the same in accordance with the law.”
Additionally, the petition had emphasised that Sanskrit, which is the second official language of the state, had only 936 speakers according to the 2011 census and Pahari (Himachali) dialect chain which is spoken by more than 40 lakh people was being neglected and has not been made an official language even after having so many speakers.
The petition also highlighted works of Former Chief Minister Late YS Parmar and Former Education Minister Late Narain Chand Parashar towards the promotion of the Pahari (Himachali) language.
What’s Pahari (Himachali) Language, How Many Districts It Covers
It is to be noted that according to the petitioner, Pahari (Himachali) is a combined term used for the Western Pahari dialect chain spoken in Himachal Pradesh and majorly includes Kangri, Mandeali, Chambeali, Kulvi, Mahasu Pahari and Sirmauri. According to him ever since the creation of Himachal Pradesh, there has been a demand for recognition of Pahari (Himachali) under the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution and it is also officially listed with 37 more languages as a language which is in significant demand to be included in the scheduled languages category.
In his plea, he also stated that the Himachal Pradesh Vidhan Sabha in 1970 and 2010 have also passed resolutions concerning the promotion and development of Pahari (Himachali).
Himachal’s Snow Covered Area Has Decreased, Poses Big Threat to State Economy’s Lifelines: Report
Shimla-The area under snow cover in Himachal Pradesh has declined by 18.5% according to a recent report published by State Centre on Climate Change (SCCC) and Space Application Center (ISRO) Ahmedabad. The report revealed this decreasing trend for the five major river basins in the State.
As the report points out, the high altitude regions of Himachal Pradesh receive precipitation mainly in the form of snow during the winter season. One-third of the geographical area of the state is covered by a thick blanket of snow during the winter season. Rivers like Chenab, Beas, Parvati, Baspa, Spiti, Ravi, Sutlej and its tributaries flowing through Himachal are dependent on snowfall in winter. These rivers mainly feed into the Indus water system and a decline at this rate rings a death knell for water and also food security for millions of people from Himachal to Kashmir, the plains of Punjab, the food bowl of the country.
Using images and data received from satellites, the report states, that the winter precipitation was mapped in all the basins from October 2020 to May 2021 (a period of two years). The findings indicate that there has been an average decrease of 8.92 percent in Chenab basin, 18.54 percent in Beas basin, 23.16 percent in Ravi basin, 23.49 percent in Sutlej basin compared to last year. The ice covered area of Chenab basin was 7154.11 sq km in 2019-20, which has come down to 6515.91 sq km in 2020-21. Similarly, Beas basin was reduced from 2457.68 to 2002.03 square kilometer, Ravi basin from 2108.13 square kilometer to 1619.82 square kilometer and Sutlej from 11823.1 square kilometer to 9045 square kilometers. Overall, the snow covered area was reduced from 23542 square kilometer to 19183 square kilometer in the entire Himachal.
Sutlej Basin covers 45 per cent of the total geographical area of Himachal and it is the longest river of the state. It flows for around 320 kms here, passing through Lahaul and Spiti, Kinnaur, Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Solan and Bilaspur districts, along its course. The above study shows that the maximum reduction in snow cover has occurred in the Sutlej basin. An area of 4359 square kilometers under snow cover has decreased for the whole state, of which more than half of the Sutlej Basin.
Just two years ago another study had indicated that more than half of glaciers in Sutlej Basin are set to vanish by 2050. Yet another study also showed that the Sutlej basin has the highest 562 number of glacial lakes. These lakes stand the risk of sudden outbursts, which then causes flash floods downstream as the valley has already experienced. So, while the crisis that is unfolding, be it deglaciation, lake formation or reduction in area under snow cover, it seems that the Sutlej river basin is more vulnerable to these changes.
Prakash Bhandari, an environmental researcher and activist and member of Himdhara Collective expressing his concern states that the situation in the Sutlej river basin is certainly indicative of a serious climate emergency and it is critical to look into the drivers of this both local and global.
“The Sutlej basin catchment is the largest and so the changes visible here are more significant. Many factors have worked together to create this crisis which should be studied closely. There is no doubt that global warming is contributing to these changes. But the local conditions also play a role in reducing or increasing its impact”, he says.
The upper reaches of the Sutlej Valley, especially areas like Kinnaur are geologically fragile, with sharp gradients and loose soil strata. Vegetation is in a very small area so the proneness to erosion. We have seen the catastrophic impacts of flashfloods and landslides over the last decade and a half, where crores worth of property has been damaged. This year saw a spate of landslides where lives were lost. “In such a sensitive and also strategically important area, changes in the landscape will have far reaching and irreversible impacts. More construction activities will lead to more deforestation, more erosion”.
Construction of dams has been rampant in the Sutlej valley, a phenomena that started post independence and continues today. If all of the planned dams are built the Sutlej will be cho-a-cloc with more then 150, large and small projects. At the bottom of the valley in Bilaspur is the Bhakra Dam, built almost 6 decades ago, which has a size of 168 sq km and a storage capacity of 9.340 cubic km. Is. This is followed by the Kol Dam which extends for 42 km up to Sunni, which has a total storage capacity of 90 million cubic metres. Nathpa Jhakri Project which is 27.394 kms. is long. When a dam is built, a huge amount of water is stored. The debris of many villages, trees etc. also gets absorbed inside the dam. When water is stagnant, it receives heat from the Sun to form mist in the surrounding area by evaporation and simultaneously generates methane gas. The experience of the lake formed by the Kol dam at Tattapani in Mandi district shows that the area is experiencing heavy haze which was not there earlier.
“In the 30s and 40s, Shikari Devi and Kamrunag used to have snow on the peaks for about 6 months, which now could barely stop for only 2 months. The air route distance of Shikari Devi and Kamrunag is only 26 to 30 kms from Tattapani lake. At the same time, their distance is not much from the cement factories of Darlaghat, Sundernagar”, the elders in the area say. “Today, fog is prevalent and this has also made the area warmer”.
Due to the warming of the weather due to the clouds formed from the mist, the snow has started melting quickly. Apart from this the local crop patterns are affected. Post the 1990s, the Sutlej became a site for run of the river hydroelectric projects using extensive underground tunneling. This involves massive use of explosives for blasting through the mountains. Of the 23,000 MW worth of projects to be constructed in Himachal more than 10,000, a third are from this valley alone. Kinnaur continues to be a hydel powerhouse with 10 run of the river projects in progress and 30 more to be set up including two mega projects of 1500 MW and 1000 MW each. This paints a scary picture.
Interactive Sutlej River-Basin Map indicate Hydropower Station location
It is not just the hydro-electric dams but unplanned tourism and other development activities like mining, cement plants, road expansion and mindless construction across the high Himalayan regions have also add to the shift in local weather patterns, land use changes and thus the ecological crisis. But the reason why we should put the limelight on hydropower is that this is being pushed as “Green Energy”, in the name of climate change mitigation. As opposed to other forms of generating power, hydropower projects are said to cause lesser carbon emissions, which is why there has been a global push to shift to renewable resources. But the climate emergency in the Himalayas has put a question mark on ‘water’ as a renewable resource.
The question then arises that with all this data indicating a steady decline in river discharge and snow cover have our planners and policy makers not considered what will happen to these projects? Will they be able to generate the power they propose to? The people of Himalaya have to wake up to this wastage of public resources. Scarce funds should be diverted to better planning for securing local livelihoods by protecting the forest ecosystems and water sources for the future.
Feature Images: unsplash/@raimondklavins
Himachal: Warnings of Delta Plus Virulence Fall on Deaf Ears, No Restriction on Visitors from Affected States
Shimla-Yesterday, the Centre government directed the state governments to take immediate measure in wake of the spread of more infectious Delta Plus variant. As the Delta Plus variant is posing a threat of the third wave, the states were told to take steps like preventing crowds, increase testing, more focus on surveillance, contact tracing and put boosting vaccine coverage on a priority basis. Following it, Himachal Pradesh Government might have announced an alert over Delta plus variant, but there wasn’t any follow up on instructions passed by scientists and health experts to take strict restrictive measures ahead of the impending third wave.
To make it worse, high rank officials and political leaders were seen flouting Covid-19 SOPs on several occasion, which sent wrong messages to the masses. The pictures and videos showing flouting of Covid appropriate behavior by Chief Minister Jairam Thakur and Directorial General of Police, Sanjay Kundu, alongwith other staff for Anupam Kher is the most recent to mention. A group photograph and video of the same were widely circulated on social media and invited huge criticism from the people.
So far, the state has not reported any case of the Delta Plus variant. But the neighboring states – Punjab, Haryana, and Jammu & Kashmir – reported their first cases yesterday. This puts the boarding areas, like in Una district, at a higher risk. Chief Secretary to HP Government, Anil Khachi, yesterday said samples have been sent for genome sequencing.
Despite repeated warnings of Delta plus variant (B.1.617.2.1.), Himachal Pradesh has thrown its borders open to all and lifted all restrictions for inter-state travel in just one go. From June 23 onwards, the state government removed the condition for registering on the e-pass portal for visitors intending to enter the state. In the Cabinet meeting held on June 22, 201, the government first decided that e-pass restrictions would be removed from July 1, but later it changed the decision and instead implemented it immediately.
This haphazard decision is said to have come under huge pressure from the hospitality industry – the worst-hit sector, leading to financial crisis and mass unemployment among its stakeholders. Related associations had been approaching Chief Minister Jairam Thakur with their pleas to provide relief, but mostly faced disappointment. The stakeholders say the state government didn’t provide any significant relief, which is making the survival of the industry difficult.
Also, stakeholder of the industry, especially hoteliers, had been demanding the removal of restrictions and conditions on the entry of tourists to Himachal so that they could fetch the remaining peak tourist season.
With its inability to offer relief, the HP Government took the chance to waive off restrictions in a haste.
At the same time, the state government has decided to conduct offline examinations for the undergraduate classes starting from July. A section of the students had been condemning the HP government for scheduling exams without vaccinating students. Some student bodies had been asking the government as to why online classes were possible but not online exams.
The state government also waived off restrictions on timings for the opening of markets/shops.
As scientists and health experts warn of the virulence of the new variant and with neighboring states already on alert after reporting cases of the new variant, the HP government hasn’t even mentioned any intention to at least put a check on the visitor from the states where cases of Delta Plus are being reported. Carrying an RT-PCR negative report for visitors from such states/cities would have been a wiser step.
Officially, the state is on alert, but no measures have been announced to check the entry and spread of the variant into the state. The state government does speak of preparing for the anticipated third wave, but there is hardly any long-term preventive strategy. The Covid appropriate behavior is hard to adopt when markets and tourist places are crowded with visitors.
Why Delta Plus is a Big Concern
The World Health Organization (WHO) has labelled the Delta variant as ‘Variant of Concern’.
The Centre and scientific/medical institutes in India also agree with that Delta Plus as a variant of concern and could be the cause of impending third wave. Last Tuesday, based on the findings of INSACOG, the Union Health Ministry had alerted and advised Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh regarding the Delta Plus variant of COVID19.
INSACOG had warned that the Delta Plus variant has increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response.
“Delta variant is more resistant to medication, treatment and vaccination. Therefore, people who have been vaccinated can still be affected by this variant and can go on to get a clinical illness, Archana Dhawan Bajaj, director, Nurture IVF, told a national English Daily.
“Neutralising antibodies against this variant post-vaccination seem to be nearly five times lower in people who have already been vaccinated than the other variants,” she said.
Further, Dr Raman Gangakhedkar, ex-Head Scientist of Epidemiology and communicable diseases, ICMR, has also expressed concern over the reports that Delta Plus has reported pathophysiologic change and affecting different organs. Dr Raman says that it could transfer from cell to cell and would more likely produce neurological symptoms as a common manifestation.
So far India has reported 51 cases of the Delta Plus variant.
Delta Plus variant is a variant of Delta with an additional mutation -B.1.617.2.1.