SRINAGAR KASHMIR, INDIA – Jana Begum, 60, wears a loose tunic called a pheran. She instinctively pulls the cloth covering her head slightly over her face’s right side, which is marred by scars from a bear attack.
In 2009, Begum was visiting her relatives’ home on the outskirts of Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir state. The area is in the vicinity of a large number of orchards.
During this visit, she was praying in a room, oblivious that people were trying to capture a bear outside the house. During the melee, the bear entered her relatives’ house.
“As I came out of the room, I realized what was happening,” Begum says. “I shouted and rushed up the stairs.”
The bear followed her, caught her on the stairs and pounced on the right side of her face. It tore her right eye, ear, nostril and lip with its claws.
She says that her face was such a wreck that people said she would have been better off dead. She agreed with them.
She used to hide her whole face with her head covering until she opted for plastic surgery. But the difference between the sides of her face is still visible.
It took her more than a year to recover from the attack. Although plastic surgery restored her features, she lost sight in her right eye.
Leopard and bear attacks on Kashmiri citizens are increasing. The government and national conservation organizations cite human and livestock population growth, land use changes, thinning forest density and habitat degradation. Human encroachment on wildlife habitats for agricultural and residential purposes is a major factor. Citizens’ economic interests in these areas lead them to retaliate against the wild animals. Government awareness programs aim to educate people on how to avoid conflict with wildlife and minimize damage.
The number of deaths following attacks by wild animals is increasing each year, according to the Predator Alert report released in 2008 by the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department and the Wildlife Trust of India, a national conservation organization.
The Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department recorded 118 human deaths and 1,147 attacks by wildlife in Jammu and Kashmir state from 2006 to 2011. But the total numbers are likely much higher, as these figures represent only the cases registered for compensation.
The Jammu and Kashmir government pays 100,000 Indian rupees ($1,800) to the families of those killed by wild animals and 5,000 rupees to 33,000 rupees (about $90 to $600) to attack victims depending on the nature of their injuries.
Common leopards and Asiatic black bears are the two species most responsible for attacks and deaths in Jammu and Kashmir, according to the Predator Alert.
Conflict between humans and wildlife has emerged as the “single most important issue” for the Jammu and Kashmir Wildlife Protection Department, according to its 2001-2010 overview report. It has caused human death and sparked public outcry.
Hilal Ahmad Rather, 28, a resident of Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, says that