Kotdwar: The fear of leopards has prompted villagers in Dugadda and Pokhra blocks of Uttarakhand’s Pauri district to leave their ancestral homes and migrate.
While the residents of Godi village in Dugadda and Bharatpur village in Pokhra have left their homes en masse and are living on rent at places such as Kotdwar, people in the neighbouring villages continue to live in constant fear of the big cats.
People do not venture out of their homes after dark. They escort their children to schools and back to ensure their safety. This takes up almost all of their time, affecting their work and financial condition.
Situated 16 km from Kotdwar, Godi was completely deserted by its residents on August 25. Only four families were left in the village and they too moved out, leaving behind their ancestral homes and farms.
The villagers have taken shelter in rented houses at Dugadda and Kotdwar.
Earlier, 12 families had left the village. Eight of these 12 families had migrated a few years ago and used to come back to the village from time to time, Chandra Prakash Chaudhary, a resident of the village now living in Kotdwar, told PTI.
On April 10 last year, a leopard took away Mahi, the five-year-old daughter of Chandra Mohan Dabral, while she was playing in the courtyard of her house, Chaudhary said.
Last month, a leopard dragged away Reena Devi when she was returning from school after dropping her child there, Chaudhary said.
”That shook the confidence of the four families left behind in the village, and with a heavy heart, they took a collective decision to leave their ancestral homes,” he said.
Shanti Devi, who moved away from Godi, said they have left most of their belongings in the village and are facing difficulties in starting a new life.
Kotdwar Sub Divisional Magistrate Pramod Kumar attributed the mass desertion by residents of Godi village to the growing number of leopards, which has also made them more aggressive.
”We are coordinating with the forest department to intensify patrolling in the area. It will instill confidence among the villagers and they might return to Godi,” he said.
Dozens of villages in Chaubattakhal tehsil of Pokhra block, too, are living in the fear of leopards for years.
On June 10 last year, Godavari Devi of Dabra village was working in the fields near her house when she was killed by a leopard. In May 2018, a leopard mauled Sundarai village resident Virendra Kumar to death in a roadside passenger shed.
Apart from Dabra and Sundarai, those living in dozens of villages such as Mazgaon, Kilwas, Quin, Chamnau and Soudal are living in constant fear of the big cats.
Bharatpur village – another village in Pauri emptied of its population – wears a deserted look as all its residents have moved out.
During Covid, two families returned to the village to take up farming. But the fear of leopards forced one of them, Sanjay Sundriyal, to leave. He, along with his family, moved to Delhi a few months ago.
On mass migration by the villagers, Garhwal range Divisional Forest Officer Mukesh Kumar said increasing leopard attacks could be a reason.
”Efforts will be made by the administration to rehabilitate the villagers who have had to leave due to fear of the big cats,” he said. Ramesh Chandra Sundriyal, who was living alone in the village, finally moved out two days ago and made his Gawani town, about 10 km away, his new home.
Leopards in the forests on the outskirts of Kotdwar, Lansdowne, Dugadda and Chaubattakhal have injured several bikers as they are thrown off balance after narrowly escaping an ambush by the big cat along the way.
Social worker Sudhir Sundriyal said about five to six leopards are spotted everyday in these areas. People are asked to stay alert through loudspeakers, telephone calls and text messages, he said.