In view of the rising human leopard conflict in North Bengal, the forest department is set to conduct an assessment to ascertain the number of leopards in forests and tea plantations in the region soon.

The department will also radio-collar leopards in forests to mitigate the conflict. Leopard attacks, human casualties in such incidents, and killing of the animals by humans and poisoning them are common in north Bengal.

The principal chief conservator of forests, wildlife, Vinod Kumar Yadav, held a virtual meeting with all chief conservators and divisional forest officers of the region to discuss the matter and formulate strategies involving all stakeholders, including tea plantation management, today.\

“We will soon kick start a study of the leopards in the forests, tea plantations and outside. It will help us identify the hotspots of humanleopard conflict and mitigate it,” said chief conservator of forests, wildlife, north, Rajendra Jakhar.

No such study has been conducted in the recent past, foresters said. Following frequent incidents of man-leopard conflict, wildlife activists have been talking about the need for a count to ascertain the number of the big cats in the region. The tea gardens in the region make an ideal habitat for leopards that prefer living in shrubs and bushes instead of dense forests.

They can also hunt livestock that are abundant in the gardens. But the presence of leopards also leads to frequent man-animal conflict. Foresters said they have always asked the garden management to install lights in the labour lines.

It is learnt that the ministry of environment, forest and climate change had earlier issued guidelines on human leopard conflict management and stressed on longterm research and focus on estimating the population of leopards in high conflict areas.

It had also called for identification of conflict-prone areas.

There are 153 tea plantations registered with the labour department in the Dooars, while there are around 42 in the Terai areas. According to study reports of the Wildlife Institute of India, 90 leopards are in the forests, including in the Gorumara National Park, Jaldapara National Park and Buxa Tiger Reserve.

However, there are many more leopards in different tea plantations. Mr Jakhar also said that some rescued leopards will be tagged with radio collars. The radio-collaring process will be conducted by GIZ, a Germany-based institute.

“The initiative will be an effort to better understand their behaviour, and we will be able to track their movement,” he said.