We reported yesterday on a man-eating leopard that dragged away and devoured a four-year-old boy in Nepal, the third victim from the same remote village in just four months.
You can read our report in the Daily Telegraph here.
It is possible that one killer cat may be stalking Bela village from its jungle lair in the mountains of central Nepal and could be responsible for all three deaths, the police told our reporter Phanindra Dahal.
“A leopard took away a four-year-old boy from his house at 6:20pm (1235 GMT) on Sunday,” said Surendra Prasad Mainali, the deputy superintendent of police for the district of Kavre, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) east of Kathmandu.
“He was playing inside his house. The police and locals conducted a search until midnight and found his dead body inside a forest 15 kilometres away.
“The man-eater leopard has not been seen in the village since the incident.”
Mainali said leopards — an endangered animal in Nepal — had attacked numerous villagers in recent months and were increasingly targeting children.
Police have adopted a shoot-to-kill policy for any leopards seen encroaching on the territory of the Bela residents.
The incident put me in mind of another story we broke last month about 15 Nepalese villagers, including a 14-year-old, who were arrested for eating a leopard in the belief that the meat could guard against gout.
There has been no survey in Nepal of the population size but estimates by conservationists put the number of leopards in the Chitwan and Bardia national parks in the Terai at up to 125.
Conservationists say poaching for skins and body parts increased during the last five years of the Maoist rebellion when parks were poorly protected.
But improved conservation of forests since then has seen the population burgeoning.
Clearly Nepal has a problem where humans and leopards meet – and the cats usually seem to get the upper hand in direct conflict situations, with studies showing some 270 people were killed by the animal in the ten years to 2004.
There have been 106 leopard deaths at the hand of humans during the same period. (These figures, of course, are about face-to-face encounters. They do not take into account the many hundreds of leopards killed by deforestation, loss of habitat and poaching.)
Despite the fragile conservation status of the Panthera pardus in Nepal, it isn’t held in the same esteem as, say, Bengal tigers. The reason for this is that leopards are often seen, with some justification, as dangerous pests. They visit human settlements across Nepal frequently, killing domesticated animals and generally making a nuisance of themselves.
They have also been known to attack as far in as the suburbs of Kathmandu.
Naturalists say that the reason is paradoxically Nepal’s success in protecting its forests. At the top of the food chain, the leopard is being driven out of its natural hunting ground by competition or depleting prey.
They generally avoid people if they can, but when they get hungry they have been known to attack children, especially older or injured leopards that can’t hunt traditional prey.
Another reason that encounters often end in tears or worse is that most locals panic when they see a leopard, and think it is a man-eating tiger, Shanta Raj Jnawali at the National Trust of Nature Conservation told the Nepali Times.
The leopard then gets spooked and tries to defend itself.
So what should you do if you are pottering around in your kitchen and you come face-to-face with a hungry leopard who thinks he might just be in with a chance of a free lunch?
“If you see a leopard, you should not disturb the animal,” advises Jnawali. “Walk out of the house, lock it and wait for the rescue team.”
Hmmm… sounds like the kind of advice that easier said than done. But suppress that urge to flap your arms around and holler – one day it might just save your life.