Villagers in Pauri Garhwal, Chamoli, and Almora districts of Uttarakhand complain of rising leopard attacks. Lack of basic healthcare in the region means transporting victims hundreds of kilometres away in critical condition.
On January 7 morning, 21-year-old Tulsi Devi of Dumdikot village in Pauri Garhwal left her home to collect firewood from the nearby forest. She encountered a leopard and sustained severe injuries on her head, eyes and arms.
In a bleeding condition, as she cried in pain, her family rushed her to a community health centre in Chaukhatiya, Almora district, around 60 kilometres from her village for first-aid treatment. The journey took two hours.
Her injuries were grave and due to a lack of adequate healthcare facilities in the region, her family had to take Devi all the way to the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS), Rishikesh, around 200 km from her village in Thalisain tehsil of Pauri Garhwal in Uttarakhand.
“It took six hours before Devi could get treatment after the leopard attack. The doctor at the health centre at Chaukhatiya, Almora closed the wounds using stitches. But as her eyes were severely injured, hence we had to take her to Rishikesh,” 32-year-old Darshan Singh, brother-in-law of Devi, told Gaon Connection.
This isn’t the first time a villager in Pauri Garhwal district has been injured in a leopard encounter. Villagers claim such incidents are on the rise in Pauri, Almora and Chamoli districts.
“Leopard attacks are on the rise. Devi’s case was the fifth such incident in the past one month,” Bhim Singh Rawat, who lives in Syunsal village, Thalisain, told Gaon Connection. “Both at a community, and as a response by the health and forest department, we have failed to prevent such encounters,” he added.
Whereas such incidents are on the rise, basic healthcare facilities in the district are missing. The victims of the human-wildlife encounters have to wait for hours to access basic treatment. They often have to be rushed in critical condition to far-off cities for treatment and tests, such as CT scan and MRI. Apart from hospital bills, they end up spending a huge amount on transport.
“We had to book a private car to take Tulsi to Rishikesh. We were charged sixteen thousand rupees for the cab. Apart from that, we spent around ten thousand rupees on the CT Scan and other health costs,” told Singh.
Like Tulsi, Gomti Devi (Dec 5, Gairsain, Chamoli), Anju Devi (Dec 27, Syaldey, Almora), and Kamla Devi (Dec 30, Syaldey, Almora) have also encountered leopards in the past one month. Villagers alleged there could be more than one leopard in the area as attacks were witnessed in many areas.
On being contacted, Dhiraj Singh Garbyal, district magistrate of Pauri Garhwal told Gaon Connection, “We have sent a forest department team to enquire about the situation on the ground. These conflicts are a big issue in context of the state.”
According to the District Health Society, Department of Health & Family Welfare, Pauri Garhwal, there is one community health centre, three additional primary health centres, and 18 sub centres in Thalisain tehsil.
However, not all are functional, alleged the local villagers. “Access to healthcare is a huge concern in hilly and remote areas of Uttarakhand. Till Chaukhatiya, there are no proper health facilities in the fifty kilometres radius. We lack in first aid and timely treatment,” said Rawat.
According to him, most primary health centres (PHCs) in the tehsil are closed. “Only one PHC is open where the centre lacks water, electricity, refrigerator, medicines, and even doctor. The health centre is supported only by a pharmacist,” he alleged.
However, Garbyal dismissed such allegations and said all the health centres in the district were open.
“Anything can happen in a leopard attack. We cannot treat a person with internal injuries. We have to refer such cases to either district hospital or community health centres,” Sunny Kohar, medical officer, Bungidhar, one of the additional primary health centres in Thalisain, told Gaon Connection.
“We do not have X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan machines. We also need blood bank and labs to treat critical situations at local level,” he added.
According to Rawat, an ambulance was provided in July last year, but is mostly meant for the community health centre in Thalisain. “The ambulance does not reach us when we need it the most. People have to arrange for their own transport. There should be a dedicated ambulance for us,” he said.
Uttarakhand is not new to human-wildlife encounters. As per the state forest department, 50 people have been killed till October 30 last year in human-wildlife conflict and 214 injured in attacks by wild animals in the state. The data revealed that the maximum number of attacks were by bears (71) followed by leopard (58).
In 2019, 58 people lost their lives to human-wildlife conflict and 181 were injured, while in 2018, 60 were killed and 234 injured. In 2017, total 39 people died while 285 were injured and in 2016, total 69 humans lost their lives with 463 left injured in human-wildlife conflict in the state.
“There is no specific reason behind increasing attacks.,” Anil Rawat, forest ranger, Thalisain, told Gaon Connection.
According to the forest ranger, Thalisain, these encounters have increased in the recent month as daily activities after the COVID-19 lockdown have resumed.
“Animals will always be in the surroundings… About a month back, my whole team went to the spot where villagers reported leopard attacks,” he told Gaon Connection. “For over two or three days, we patrolled the area but we didn’t find any tiger or leopard. And, it is also not possible for us to relocate every leopard we see,” he added.
The increasing human-wildlife conflicts are being reported from other Himalayan states in the country. For instance, between 2006 and 2019, at least 229 people were killed and 3,390 injured in Kashmir region due to human-animal conflict. Moreover, 84 leopard attacks per year were recorded in the North Bengal region between 2011 and 2016.
As per 2018 media report, the Uttarakhand government provides Rs five lakh as compensation to victims of human-animal conflict. And, Rs two lakh is offered to those who sustain serious injuries in wild animal attacks.
But the process of seeking compensation is time consuming and sometimes takes several months for the promised amount to reach the victims.
For instance, on December 6 last month, 34-four-year-old Kamla Devi, who lives in Jhimandiya village, five km from Dumdikot village in Pauri Garhwal, encountered a leopard and was injured. She is yet to receive compensation.
“I have not yet received compensation. I was told I could get it in either six months or one year,” she told Gaon Connection, showing her injuries on the nape.