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Spotted Leopards crowd western India

The Pioneer, New Delhi, 1st April, 2013

The landscapes of western India, completely devoid of wilderness and high density of human population, are teeming with leopards. As many as five adult large carnivores, including leopards and striped hyenas, exist in every  100 square kilometers of area — a density never before reported in a human-dominated landscape.

This is as per a new study conducted by Wildlife scientist Vidya Athreya from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). The study, called “Big Cats in Our Backyards,” was conducted in western Maharashtra. The report was authored by Athreya besides big cat expert Dr Ulhas Karanth from WSC amongst other international experts.

The researchers utilised camera traps to observe leopards in areas devoid of wilderness. They discovered that leopards often moved close to houses at night though remained mostly undetected by humans. While leopards have attacked and killed people in the past, but despite this close proximity between leopards and people, there were few instances of attacks in the region, said the study.

The authors also photographed rusty spotted cat, small Indian civet, Indian fox, jungle cat, jackal, mongoose — besides the people from the local communities. “Human attacks by leopards were rare despite a potentially volatile situation considering that the leopard has been involved in serious conflict, including human deaths in adjoining areas,” said Dr Karanth. “The results of our work push the frontiers of our understanding of the adaptability of both humans and wildlife to each other’s presence.”

Experts point out that leopard is a schedule I species that is known to human-use areas. Dogs are one major attractant to leopards. They have been found to come to towns and villages to take dogs. But these species are still being trapped in large numbers even though their numbers do not decrease at site of capture. They have called for a policy addressing its long term conservation strategies. Protected areas form about 5% of land area and  as reported in study there is a lot of wildlife outside. The need of hour is to focus on how to deal with issues like leopards coming to take livestock and dogs.

They pointed out that even though compensation is a good attempt it is known to be difficult to reach its target beneficiaries, in case when villages are remote and affected villagers illiterate.