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7,910 leopards spotted in India,s tiger habitats

The Tribune, New Delhi, 7th September, 2015


India finally has an estimate of its most populous and elusive large predator, the leopard. The first ever count of India's leopards, conducted alongside last year's tiger census, has put the spotted cat population at 7,910 in an around tiger habitats across the country except the northeast.


The leopards were counted using the same methods adopted for the tiger census, which involved getting pictures of animals through camera-trapping and gathering other evidence of their presence, and then extra-polating the numbers to cover the entire forest landscape.


"There are leopards outside the areas we covered. Based on these numbers, we estimated India's total leopard population to be in the range of 12,000 to 14,000, said Yadvendradev V. Jhala, the lead scientist of the tiger census, who presented the leopard figures  at Wildlife Institute of India's annual research seminar in Dehradun last week.


The census numbers give the first accurate picture of the density and distribution of the spotted cats, which were previously guesstimated to be anywhere between 10,000 and 45,000 in the country.


The exercise covered 3,50,000 sq km of forested habitat across the Shivalik hills and Gangetic plains, central India and the Western Ghats landscape. As many as 17,143 pictures of 1,647 individual leopard were obtained during the exercise that covered most forested landscapes, even the low-grade revenue forests.



The study found the species well distributed across the country indicating that India’s leopard population is quite healthy.



Most of the leopard population are contiguous, ensuring a healthy genetic exchange. So, leopard do not face the problems of Isolated populations that plague Indian tigers, Jhala told TOI.


The wildlife biologist said since there were no previous estimates, there was  no way of knowing  whether the leopard population  was growing or declining . But Leopards are doing far better than tigers because they can survive in scrubs and human-impacted forests as well. That's why they are not in imminent danger as the tigers, he said..


 However. Healthy forests remain crucial to the long-term survival of leopards in India.


"There's an impression that leopards are everywhere. That's not the case. leopards need a protected patch of forest to occur in the vicinity. They aren't found in purely agricultural stretches," Jhala noted.


With an estimated population of 1,817, Madhya Pradesh has emerged as the top leopard state in the country. Its followed by Karnataka (1,129), Maharashtra (905), Chhattisgarh (846) and Tamil Nadu (815).


In another major leopard state, Uttarakhand, the study estimated a population of 703. But Jhala said the actual number could be higher by 300-400, because the census did not cover the higher Himalayas.