Guwahati, February 17: Wildlife experts are worried that with no census ever conducted on black panthers, or for that matter, even leopards in Assam, the population of this “secretive and the smallest of the big cats” – assumed to be dwindling now – might not be known to environmentalists for in-depth research.
“How can we know how many black panthers are there in the state when we do not even have the figures for the overall leopard population?”, questioned wildlife biologist Feroz Ahmed, who has done a study on leopard–human conflict in Assam.
Black panthers belong to the leopard family and are more ferocious than tigers. “It’s a secretive animal which sleeps during the daytime, mostly on treetops, and hunts during the night. Many a time, they carry their kill – rabbits, dogs, calves, rats and the like - to treetops and tend to eat leisurely”, Ahmed, who is associated with the wildlife NGO, Aaranyak, said.
“A survey of leopards in Assam – which will also cover black panthers – is urgently required. However, the state forest department has not done anything in this regard, perhaps because it a non-priority animal for them compared to tigers and rhinos”, the wildlife expert observed. “I believe the forest department does not have the resources to carry out such an exercise, as most of their staff are busy with anti-poaching activities.”
Ahmed attributes the recent incidents of black panthers straying into human settlements due to a lack of prey base and decreasing forest cover.
A female black panther was rescued from the Ethal Tea Estate in Maijan of Dibrugarh district last year and later shifted to the Assam State Zoo Cum Botanical Garden on December 31. She will now have company, with another adult male panther rescued on January 3 this year from Kaheng tea estate getting shifted to the zoo on Tuesday.
“For the first time, we have a black panther pair in the zoo and we are quite excited about it,” said Narayan Mahanta, Divisional Forest Officer in charge of the zoo. He added that in order to increase the population of this rare species, the zoo authorities are planning to go for captive breeding between the two black panthers.
A worried Ahmed, on the other hand, informed that during the last five years, more than 50 leopards were killed because of leopard-human conflict. 13 of these were killed last year in Jorhat district alone.
“These animals generally sneak into small forests and tea gardens, which act as a cover for them, and they prey on the domestic animals of tea labourers,” added Ahmed.
(The story was published in the newspaper eastern chronicle)