Why drones are tracking wildlife in Kashmir

Synopsis: Analysis of the increasing instances of human-widlife conflict in Kashmir region, reasons behind such incidents and how administration is responding.


In July, a four-year-old girl in a car was grabbed and killed by a leopard in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal area. In June, another four-year-old girl had beenm auled to death by a leopard in Budgam district.

As fears of wild animals, particularly leopards and bears, straying into inhabited areas rise, wildlife officials in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) are worried.

What are the reasons behind the human-widlife conflict in Kashmir?

The present human-widlife conflict is a result of a mix of policies:

– Changes in land-use pattern: Orchards have intruded into areas adjacent to forests, wastelands and pastures that have been inhabited historically by large animals such as leopards, black and brown bears. Temporary Paddy fields have given way for orchards that occupy lands permanently.. Moreover, they extend to the fringes of forests. Without any buffer b/w them and the forests, they tempt bears and other animals out of their habitats. It’s estimated that over 80%of the bear attacks take place during the fruiting season, from September-December.

– Growing population of dogs, which offer an easy prey and are preferred food for leopards is also leading to increased human-wildlife conflict

– Deforestation: Forests outside the protected areas have seen large-scale deterioration leading to the loss of forest undergrowth. This undergrowth (different from the ground vegetation in orchards) also supports the natural prey of larger wild carnivores like the leopard and the absence of such cover depletes the natural prey base and compels the animals to come out of the forests to hunt.

Habitat fragmentation

– Increase in human population: This has led to encroachments into wildlife habitats and forest buffer areas

– Shift towards horticulture, with dense nurseries being set up adjacent to urban habitats. These dense nurseries have created ideal habitats for leopards, for example, to breed in large numbers.

Moreover, Kashmir, has an additional element of friction: the presence of army and paramilitary camps and patrols, sometimes inside forests

Due to all of the above reasons, animals find their natural prey base decreasing and omnivores have to move out of their usual habitats in search of food.

What is the scale of human-wildlife conflict in Kashmir?

Almost 90% of human-wildlife conflict occurs outside protected areas, in and around the adjacent villages.

From 2006 to August this year, 230 people had been killed and 2,860 injured in such conflicts in the Kashmir region.

Children make for easy targets. The worst years have been 2011-12 and 2013-14: Each saw 28 deaths. These years also saw the highest number of injuries: 315 in 2011-12 and 333 in 2013-14.

What steps are being taken by the administration?

Since last year the J&K authorities have begun using drones to monitor the movement of animals.

The department of wildlife protection is even pushing for an increase in the number of food-bearing plants of local pear and apple species in protected areas. It is being hoped that such “habitat enrichment” will help check the number of animals, particularly the black bear, venturing for food outside their usual habitats.

Administration is also planning to establish 10 model joint control rooms where forest protection and wildlife staff will work together.

Leopards straying into city areas have been captured and translocated from conflict sites to core forest areas.

Why translocation is not the answer?

The entire process of capture, handling, transportation and release into a new landscape occupied by other animals of the same species is stressful. This is particularly true for territorial animals like leopards. As per studies, animals try to return to their original territory after translocation to a new landscape. This leads to increased probability of human-widlife conflict. Moreover, translocation can also make animals aggressive.

What is the way forward?

All the steps being taken need to be accompanied by landscape interventions outside these areas to reduce the chances of conflict.

Source: This post is based on the article “Why drones are tracking wildlife in Kashmir” published in Livemint on 23rd Oct 2021.

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