Meera Bhardwaj:

Two Karnataka Beat Foresters have designed a safe and secure cage for capture of conflict leopards. Mohan Kumar and Sharanappa, forest guards in Kunigal Range of Tumakuru Division designed a model cage, now known as the “Tumkur Cage” in the wake of continuing human kills and public outcry in this region. Till date, nine conflict leopards have been caged in the Tumkur Cage in Tumakuru and Mysuru districts.

In the background of several operations and methods failing to cage the leopards in 2019, the two foresters strived from 2019-20 to come out with an ideal cage that would safely secure the spotted big cats. Year 2019 saw six incidents of human kills by leopards in the district with several operations – one even like Khedda was tried but leopards ran away from the pits.

Different methods wherein drone operations, sniffer dogs, huts made from scrap material, perfumes, urine of captive animals, playing of recorded sounds of prey animals, etc was used for more than a year to catch the elusive leopards in the conflict area. The expertise of veterinary doctors on deputation to forest department, Special Tiger protection Force, elephants, etc were utilized but alas! The leopards were not to be seen. Even Soligas who are experts in tracking tigers were called but the leopards proved to be very smart and one step ahead of foresters in every method tried and tested.

Mohan Kumar adds, “The then DCF gave us a free hand and asked us to work out a safe method for caging the leopards. However, from 2019 to Sept 2020, all our attempts proved futile as the big cats would escape or would not venture near the cage. We used every type of live bait from goats to pigs to hens and ducks to rabbits but nothing would attract the conflict leopards. And that is when we decided to go for a bigger and wider cage but a smarter one.”

While Sharanappa informs, “We studied the behavior of the leopards for almost one year – how it visits the animal sheds in the agricultural areas and surveyed the areas where these conflict animals traversed and at what hours they visited. Only after detailed analysis, we concluded that the cage should be such that the animal should get a feel of more space and a cage that had a feel of a cattle shed. All these factors were considered for designing the cage and the then DCF gave us all encouragement for its design.”

Before every operation, the conflict leopards were tracked and identified through various methods. With continuing human kills, 9 leopards were tracked in camera traps but not specified as these animals were found to be roaming around an area of 8–10-kilometer surroundings. However, later 3 suspected leopards were identified and the small cages kept but later the camera traps revealed these identified animals never entered the cages and so, all attempts once again failed.

For one year, both the foresters experimented with every method to capture the conflict leopards. Between 2019-20, some 10-15 leopards were captured in and around Tumakuru district but these did not include the suspected ones. Out of these captures, most were released back into the wild excepting the doubtful ones. However, for the first time in November 2020, a new bigger cage was designed that was smart and easy to operate.

The existing small cage was expanded in such a way that the leopard did not feel restricted in the confined space. The new Tumkur Cage is 15 feet in length, 10 feet in height and 12 feet wide. Two doors were installed on both the sides with a trigger mechanism for closing the doors. Looking like an ideal animal shed in a farmland, the Tumkur Cage was kept on the road side but with one door closed and another open.

The upper portion of the door was kept fixed with the lower one sliding up and down. Further, the trigger in the cage was installed in such a way that it could not be seen. Apart from this, the prey was tied at one end of the cage while a live camera fixed inside the cage showed the entry of the leopards to the foresters in real time on their mobile phones.

Within 14 days of installation of the Tumkur Cage, the first Leopard was captured safely in December, 2020. After this, three more leopards were caged on December 15, 29th and then further, in January 6-7, 2021 in the conflict ridden Tumakuru district.

IN the aftermath of the Tumakuru success, this smart cage was used in T. Narsipura in Mysuru district early this year. The two beat foresters transported the Tumkur Cage from Tumakuru to T. Narsipura where the conflict had worsened as four people had been killed.

The two young, dedicated foresters in their thirties have served in Kunigal Range for the last 7 years and hope to do more in serving the cause of forest and ecology.

(All Photos : Courtesy Karnataka Forest Department)