The two-and-a-half-year-old leopard, zoologically known as Panthera Pardus, was recovered by the AJK wildlife guards from Khaniyan village , almost 18 hours after it was ensnared and subsequently wounded critically.
The wildlife department had to invite wildlife guards from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to sedate, transport and rehabilitate the big cat as it did not possess the requisite expertise and equipment.
The team sedated the beast with the help of three tranquillising darts, stitched a deep wound on the spot and transported it to Muzaffarabad
In Muzaffarabad, three veterinary doctors stitched injured animal’s wounds and administered some other medicines to rehabilitate it but to no avail.
“In spite of our best possible efforts, the leopard did not survive and died,” said Naeem Iftikhar Dar, a senior officer of the AJK wildlife department.
He said the body had been sent for flaying of skin and subsequent stuffing.
The authoritative Red List of ‘Threatened Species’ compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies Panthera Pardusas “near threatened” species.
In Pakistan, this species is found in the mountains of Kashmir, adjoining Murree hills and parts of KP.
Though the IUCN Red List says the population of leopards is decreasing but AJK wildlife department claims that “indirect evidences” have shown that the same has increased in their area over the past decade.
“The increase has led to the shrinkage of available habitat of the big cats which is why some animals occasionally descend on human populations in search of space and food,” Mr Dar said.
“And when these animals kill livestock they are attacked by villagers,” he added.
He said within the past two months, it was the sixth leopard that had died as a result of “human-leopard conflict” which warranted mitigation measures on the part of the government.
He regretted that his department was ill-equipped to handle such situations.
According to him, lack of rehabilitation centres, trained staff and vets specialising in treatment of wildlife species had been hampering conservation efforts in AJK.
Death of wild animals, particularly leopards, including the one in AJK has reverberated across Pakistan, creating much dismay as people increasingly call to protect critically endangered wildlife. The injured leopard was found by locals along the Neelum river and transported for treatment. Vets revealed that the leopard, who was also a mother, had been hit by six cartridges from an LG rifle. Her backbone was broken and the lower part of her body was completely paralysed. Unfortunately, the doctors failed to save her life.
The death of this leopard signifies the diminishing wildlife of this country. The reasons for this are two-fold: one, climate change and deforestation have increased the vulnerability and increasing number of species; and two, immoral and illegal practices such as poaching for valuables and hunting for sport continue unabated. The incumbent government, which believes that it has championed the protection and preservation of wildlife through its climate change and sustainability initiatives, has miserably failed at protecting the precarious wildlife species of Pakistan. The fact that the government had issued special permits for hunting Houbara Bustards indicates their farfetched and hollow promises. There is a need to curb such practices. The AJK government must stop issuing ‘big game shooting licences’ and put a blanket ban on animal killing through amendments to the Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Act. There is an even greater necessity to create a sustainable environment where rare species can thrive, survive and reproduce. In the case of leopards, the government needs to carry out a massive afforestation project in AJK.
Killing or wounding such animals is not an act of heroism, bravery or skill. The culture of treating animals as mere resources and trophies must stop. They too are breathing creatures who require love, affection and sympathy.