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Conservation or livelihood?
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With farm animals in Bartsham geog, Trashigang, continuing to fall prey to the leopard since July 2004, villagers feel that the only way to solve the problem is to kill it.
But the leopard is a protected animal and killing it is prohibited by the Forestry and Nature Conservation Act of 1995.

Since July 2004 the geog has lost 24 horses, mules and jersey cows. The villages affected are Trashang, Muktangkhar, Mantshang, Jamung and Yingom which are located near the forest.

"The villagers see killing the leopard as the only way to save their animals," said Bartsham Gup Neten Druba. "The issue has dominated the geog meetings." Going by the pug marks found near the water sources the villagers are sure that it was a leopard preying on their animals.

According to the gup, the leopard always attacked the good breed of animals like mules, jersey cows and horses, which enraged the villagers. Meme Wangda who recently lost a mule and a donkey to the leopard said that the money paid by the government as compensation was less compared to what they paid when they bought the animals. "Although the compensation for our animals was recently introduced, it has dropped from what they paid in the beginning," said the gup's clerk, Chador Phuntsho.

The compensation paid for the horses dropped from Nu. 6,000 to Nu. 3,500, and from Nu. 10,000 to Nu. 7,000 for the mules while the compensation for the jersey cows remained same at Nu. 7,500.

"We lose one animal today, we buy another one tomorrow and that too is killed by the leopard," said Dorjila a farmer from Muktangkhar who lost a jersey cow. "The problem seems never ending."

Mules in Haa

The villagers mainly use the mules and horses for carrying goods from one village to another while the jersey cows give them enough milk from which they make cheese and butter for sale. "I think it is an old leopard," said Chador Phuntsho. "Our bjatshas (bulls) are never attacked only the smaller milking jersey cows and the defenseless mules and horses are killed."

Chador Phuntsho said the leopard killed the farm animals by puncturing the neck with its fangs and fed on the body from the lower end. "They only leave out the intestines, head, skin and the legs of the animals," said Chador Phuntsho who added that if it had killed a cow, they only got to keep the legs and the skin. "We consume the legs and save the skin for the tshechu to make mongnang or kou, a special dish," said Chador Phuntsho.

The remnants of the mules and horses are normally buried.

According to the livestock department leopard attacks in villages in Bartsham were prevalent in the past but were not reported. "Villagers began reporting the killings only after the compensation scheme was started in January 2004," said a Trashigang livestock official.

Statistics with the nature conservation division of ministry of agriculture show that livestock depredation by the common leopard is second only to wild dogs.

Contributed by Samten Wangchuk, Kuensel, March 2005

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