In Manipur, livestock are under attack – and no one quite knows why or from whom.

For the past month, scores of fowl, pigs and cattle have been injured or killed in nocturnal attacks across the state, befuddling the authorities and animal rights activists.

“Our officials at the field level have reported mysterious killings of domestic animals in various places by unknown predators,” said DJN Anand, Manipur’s principal chief conservator of forests and chief wildlife warden. “Investigation is being conducted and until and unless it is scientifically established, we cannot pinpoint what is behind the killings.”

First in Churachandpur

These mysterious killings were first reported in Churachandpur district in the last week of October. “In a small locality, ducks and chicken were found mutilated at three places,” said a journalist from the area. “Initially, there was no suspicion – everyone thought it was a dog or something. But when it happened three nights in a row, villagers raised an alarm and then it was picked up by the local papers.”

As the villagers set up night vigils, the killings stopped for a couple of days. But soon after, reports of similar killings started to emerge from other places in the district. And apart from fowl, domestic pigs, goats, cattle and even dogs were being attacked.

The killings have left district officials at a loss. “Veterinary reports seem to suggest it is a wild animal , but why would an animal kill 10-20 goats, that too day after day, and not eat them?” asked a senior official of the Churachandpur district administration. “Animals don’t kill for the heck of it.”

The official said the administration had taken several steps to get to the bottom of the killings and stop them, but they had all failed. “Nothing is working – baits, traps, CCTV,” he said. “We don’t know what to look for anymore.”

The injury marks on the scores of domestic animals found dead across Manipur this past month differ from case to case. Image blurred on purpose. (Credit: Arunabh Saikia)

More animals, more places

Over the last few days, the killings have spread across the state

. “Apart from Churachandpur, there have been instances of killings from Imphal East, Kangpokpi, Thoubal, Kakching districts,” said Manipur’s Forest and Environment Minister T Shyamkumar.

On Tuesday, around 40 domestic animals were found dead in a farm in Imphal East district, said animal rights activist L Biswajit Meitei. In the hills in Kangpokpi district, a pregnant cow was found dead in its shed by its owner on Wednesday morning. The cow’s horns had been pulled out and its body reportedly bore injury marks. The following morning, two dead pigs were found in Thoubal district. “Half of one’s body is missing, and the other one has bite and scratch marks,” said Meitei.

According to Meitei, the injury marks on the murdered animals varied from case to case. “For example, the type of injury in the ducks were very different from the ones in the piglets,” he said, suggesting the creature responsible may not be the same.

Revenge killing?

With no possible explanation coming from the forest department, residents have started taking matters in their own hands. Earlier this week, residents of Imphal East killed a civet – a cat-like nocturnal mammal – suspecting it to be behind the killings.

“If we are not able to catch something soon, the fear psychosis of the people will only get higher and they will run after every wild animal and many endangered animals will be in danger,” said Meitei.

Earlier this week, residents of Imphal East killed a civet suspected to be behind the killings. (Credit: Arunabh Saikia)

Shyamkumar said his ministry had contacted the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehradun, Uttarakhand, to check if “it was the nature” of civets to attack domestic animals in the fashion witnessed in Manipur in the last month. “We have also sent the footprints of the animal found in some places to forensic experts,” he said.

Chief wildlife warden DJN Anand, however, said the killing of the civet was not a “revenge killing”. He said, “Some miscreants are responsible, it is just a coincidence.”

He added that the forest department was taking action. “Forensic examination, including post-mortem, is being conducted and sent to WWI [Wildlife Institute of India], Dehradun,” he explained. “A team of officials from WWI is likely to visit Manipur for investigation on scientific basis, including camera traps.”