A squad of 80 Nepali police officers are hunting down a leopard that has already killed at least five people in the remote western part of the Himalayan kingdom, in another case of animals encroached upon by a rising population of humans.
Agence France Presse reported that the wild leopard has been targeting villages on the banks of the Mahakali river.
Police officer Lal Bahadur Saud told AFP the wild cat may have killed several other people in recent years.
"We previously deployed police in a search, but it was futile because we didn't know about the animal's behavior and its habitat," he said.
"This time, we have sought the help of forest officials."
Saud added that while police would seek to capture the leopard alive, they are under orders to shoot if they are attacked.
At least seven people were killed in the same area last year.
“We are scared to walk alone," local school teacher Shiva Singh Saud told he Kathmandu-based Republica newspaper earlier this year. "More people may be attacked if the leopard is not taken under control immediately."
Despite its image as a snowy, mountainous nation, Nepal’s topography also features sub-equatorial plains of the southern Terai region and forested mid-hills, where most of the leopards live and contact with humans is becoming a serious problem.
According to Wildlife Extra, the leopard population in Nepal has climbed since the 1980s when the government initiated a program to regenerate degraded forest areas.
However, during the civil war that engulfed Nepal from 1996-2006, poaching for leopard skin and body parts escalated due to the collapse of parks regulation.
Many leopards have moved into areas inhabited by people looking for food. Wildlife Extra noted that sightings of leopards in suburbs and even inside houses of the capital city of Kathmandu have become commonplace.
“The question is: Who is overrunning whom?” Wildlife posed. “While urban sprawl may seem inevitable to people, by moving into the leopard's territory, it diminishes further its chances of finding traditional prey and increases the temptation of preying on domestic animals predictably found in those areas.”
Interestingly, in September 2011, police arrested 15 Nepalese villagers for eating a leopard in the belief that its meat could ward off gout disease.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.