Videos of a well-built leopard ‘playing’ with motorists in Himachal Pradesh’s Tirthan Valley located in interiors of Kullu district has raised concern among wildlife experts. The one-and-half-year leopard was seen playfully interacting with motorists and its high comfort level amidst the presence of 15-20 people, who were busy in shooting it on their mobile cameras, indicates the wild cat was initially hand-reared, a wildlife official told IANS.
The incident of his affinity with passersby, largely local villagers, was reported on the Banjar-Kullu road on Thursday. The official, requesting anonymity, said the unnatural playful instincts of this leopard, which is normally shy and rarely encountered in the daylight, indicate the animal is either surviving on scavenging or on the humans.
“The wild cat with such a high level of human imprinting is not natural. It should be kept in a rescue and rehabilitation center to understand its behaviour. It’s presence in the wild is a threat to the animal itself," he said. “The leopard can be either killed by another predator or by stray dogs," he said, “even the behaviour of the humans playing with the leopard was worrisome".
The Tirthan Valley, where the leopard was videographed, is part of the Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP) a Unesco World Heritage site. Elusive, shy leopards avoid encountering humans, despite depending on their domestic animals for food and in fact can live close to their habitations, but in such a surreptitious way that most people do not even know they are near, leave alone getting harmed, say wildlife experts.
Though the leopard is protected under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, they are occasionally poached for their skin. Sometimes they are also killed by farmers to protect livestock.