Rising man-animal conflict raises safety concerns for Tirumala devotees

Tirupati: The killing of a six-year-old girl by a leopard three days ago on the Alipiri trekking route to Tirumala temple has brought the spotlight on man-animal conflict in Seshachalam forest.

Worried over the safety of the devotees on both the trekking routes and ghat road, the temple authorities have initiated a series of measures and submitted a proposal to the forest department to tackle the issue.

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD), which manages the affairs of Sri Venkateswara temple, is jolted by the August 11 incident, which came less than two months after a three-year-old boy was injured in a leopard attack.

Though the forest department has trapped two leopards suspected to be responsible for both the attacks, the sighting of another leopard by the devotees on Monday and the presence of an estimated 5-10 leopards in the immediate vicinity of Tirumala-Tirupati forests is keeping the temple authorities on edge.

Adding to the authorities’ concern, two bears triggered panic among the devotees in the last one week.

TTD, which manages the world’s richest Hindu temple, is ready to provide funds, infrastructure and manpower to the forest department to deal with the issue.

“We are taking all possible measures but it is for the forest department to take action to minimise man-animal conflict, so that there is no threat to devotees,” said TTD Executive Officer A.V. Dharma Reddy.

The TTD officials have been holding a series of meetings with the forest department and district administration to work out a strategy to deal with the issue.

“The safety and security of devotees is the top-most priority of the TTD,” said TTD Chairman B. Karunakara Reddy after the meeting.

The temple body took some key decisions for the safety of devotees. It announced that parents with children aged below 12 years will be allowed to trek the footpath routes only between 5 a.m. and 2 p.m. The other devotees will be allowed till 10 p.m.

As a safety measure, each devotee trekking the footpath will be provided with a wooden stick as a self-defence measure.

Two-wheelers will be allowed to ply on ghat roads only between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

For the safety of devotees, the forest staff who have expertise in tackling wild animal attacks will be appointed. Devotees will be allowed in groups only after providing them with security guards.

In another major decision, the TTD banned the practice of offering food items to animals as the forest officials pointed out that this is attracting animals along the routes leading to the temple. TTD will also take action against those selling such food items.

The hoteliers along the footpath routes have been strictly instructed not to throw away or dump food wastes as these are attracting wild animals.

The temple body will install 500 CCTV cameras in both the footpath routes. Officials said if necessary drone cameras will also be procured.  Wildlife outposts with animal trackers and doctors will be set up and they will work round the clock.

Focus lights will be installed in such a way that wild animals will be visible for a distance of up to 30 meters in the surrounding areas.

The TTD mooted the idea of fencing the trekking routes. However, a final call will be taken by the forest department as per Wildlife Act.

In the early hours of Monday, the forest department trapped a leopard, which is suspected to have mauled a girl to death on August 11.

The female leopard, aged about 4-5 years, was shifted to Tirupati SV Zoo Park. The Zoo authorities were conducting various tests to find out if it was the same animal which killed the girl.

Lakshitha (6) was walking far ahead of her parents Dinesh and Sasikala.  Her parents searched for her in vain and alerted the TTD officials. The girl’s body was found behind Narasimha Swamy temple the next morning.

This was the second incident on the same footpath route in two months. A three-year-old boy who was trekking to Tirumala along with his parents, was attacked and injured by a leopard on the night of June 22 near the Seventh Mile. The animal had tried to drag the boy into the forest but it was chased by pilgrims and security personnel.

Three days later, the leopard was trapped in a cage by the forest department near the same spot.

The trekking routes and ghat road are surrounded by dense forest, part of Seshachalam hill ranges.

The Seventh Mile is where the ghat road and trekking route intersect close to the thick forest. There are several eateries at this place and the leftover food invites wild boars and deer. Forest officials say the predators come sniffing all the way to this spot.

The area had seen similar incidents in the past. In 2019, two women riding motorbikes were injured in the attack by a leopard.

Every day, over 25,000 vehicles ply between Tirupati and Tirumala. Few thousand pilgrims walk up to the hill shrine.

It is estimated that there are around 100 leopards in the Seshachalam forest, apart from elephants, deer, sloth bears and other animals.


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