The leopard which killed a one-and-half-year old child in Udal village of Almora in Uttarakhand has been permitted to be tranquilised and caged, a forest official said.

“We have been permitted, through an order issued on Tuesday by chief wildlife warden, to cage or tranquilize the leopard first which is posing threat to human life. In the condition of failing to catch the leopard, then we have been instructed to destroy it,” said Mahatim Singh Yadav, divisional forest officer (DFO), Almora.

A one-and-half-year old child in Udal village under Bhaisiya Chhana block of Almora was killed by the leopard in front of his mother on Monday while he was playing in the courtyard of the house. Furious villagers staged a protest with the deceased body for 18 hours and demanded the leopard be shot down.

Meanwhile, Yadav handed over a cheque worth Rs 90,000 as compensation to the family of the deceased child. Rest of the amount – Rs 2.10 lakh – will be provided later.

Following the protest and pressure by villagers, the DFO informed the chief wildlife warden regarding the continuous threat to human lives by the leopard and sought permission to capture or kill it.

Yadav said, “We have installed camera traps and a cage where the body of the child was found. Another cage is being installed in the village on Wednesday. Since this was the fifth incident of human killing in the last two years in that area by the leopard, we sought permission from the chief wildlife warden.”

Forest officials who are experienced in such operations have been deployed in Udal village to catch the big cat. A hunter from Bijnore area of Uttar Pradesh is also reaching Almora to eliminate the leopard, said an official.

The move, however, has been questioned by wildlife experts.

AG Ansari, Ramnagar-based wildlife expert, said, “If five human beings have lost their lives in attacks by a leopard and it is posing a threat to humans, it is in law to destroy such a wild animal. But the bigger question is how can forest officials say it is the same leopard. They should focus on catching the leopard by caging or tranquilising it instead of killing it so that an animal’s life could be saved.”

The increasing man-leopard conflict in the state often leads to protests by villagers whenever anyone, especially a child, is killed in a leopard attack. In June 2018, angry villagers in Harinagari area of Bageshwar set a forest on fire after a leopard killed a seven-year-old boy.

Chief wildlife warden, through the invocation of Clause 11 (1) (a) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, can declare any wild animal as a threat to human life and fit to be destroyed. The Act states that ‘chief wildlife warden of the state may – if he is satisfied that any wild animal specified in Schedule I has become dangerous to human life or is so disabled or diseased as to be beyond recovery – by order in writing and stating the reasons, therefore, permit any person to hunt such an animal or have it hunted’.

The power was limited through an amendment in the Act in 2003, with insertion in section 9 that states, “no wild animal shall be ordered to be killed unless the chief wildlife warden is convinced that such an animal cannot be captured, tranquilised or translocated”.