How a Search For a Missing 4-Year-Old Girl Turned Into a Search for a Leopard

An alarming number of children have been killed by leopards in residential areas in India-administered Kashmir.

Jun 7 2021, 11:35am

Four-year-old Adha Shakil was playing outside on her brother’s birthday when a leopard jumped her home’s boundary wall and landed on their lawn. 

According to her family, the leopard snatched the rosy-cheeked girl and fled into the woods of Budgam, a district in India-administered Kashmir that is the size of Los Angeles but only has a population of 750,000.  

A desperate overnight search by police and military ensued. And many in the state were glued to social media, as the girl’s aunt live-tweeted the search. 

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

Shakil’s body was found in the early hours of June 4, and local media reported she had been mauled by the leopard. Officials are still searching for the animal.

The child’s gruesome death is not an anomaly. Leopards have killed 229 people in the last 15 years across the state, and many victims have been children, according to the government. 

One in five attacks happened at the victim’s home and most attacks happened in daylight hours, according to Predator Alert, a report by the state’s department of wildlife protection. The report also found that over half of the 200 surveyed leopard attacks took place close to human habitation. 

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Regional wildlife official Rashid Naqash told VICE World News that Ompura village, where the girl lived, was one of 44 hotspots for leopard attacks in Budgam district. He said the leopard that grabbed her was in the area for four years. 

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As hundreds turned up to attend Shakil’s funeral, her grandfather told local media that they had warned the authorities about the leopard. “My granddaughter was a queen. You don’t know what we’ve lost,” he said in a video statement. He also pleaded with authorities to keep their children safe. 

Local authorities, however, say locals do not pay attention to their safety advisory about keeping children indoors.

“We went door to door telling people to take extra care of their children, especially in the mornings and evenings,” he said. “Leopards look for opportunities. They’ve adapted to urban conditions,” Naqsh added.

As pictures of the four-year old’s body circulated on social media, Shakil’s family asked people to remember the girl for her magnetic personality.

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The wildlife official added that his team can’t be everywhere all the time. “Leopards strike at lightning speed. Even if we had a camp 100 metres from the girl, we wouldn’t have been able to save her,” Naqsh said. 

An error occurred while retrieving the Tweet. It might have been deleted.

In the past, animal attacks have led to people taking matters into their own hands. The most recent case took place in February when a leopard was killed by a mob in south Kashmir for allegedly injuring a person. Last year, a video of villagers skinning a leopard out of revenge went viral. 

Leopards are considered one of the most dangerous animals for humans in India, and increasing urbanisation raises the likelihood of more human-leopard conflict.

“We see about 20-25 people killed in leopard attacks every year across Kashmir,” said Naqash. “Wild beasts like leopards act out of self-defence. As we share more and more space with animals, our department has been prioritising rehabilitation and minimising loss of both humans and animals.”

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Tagged:

India, kashmir, leopard, south asia, man-beast conflict, worldnews

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