Leopards are fierce defenders of their territory; translocating them might cause problems elsewhere

Translocating leopards that stray into human habitations cannot permanently solve the human-leopard conflicts, wildlife researchers have pointed out.

Referring to the recent incidents of sighting of leopards at Vazhachal forest division, researchers said the translocation could turn the animals more problematic and eventually it might cause problems elsewhere or die in the wild.

Wildlife scientists of the Kerala Forest Research Institute who had studied the incidents of human-leopard conflict in the central Kerala region had earlier listed 16 incidents of cattle-lifting between April 2009 and March 2012. Most incidents were reported in Palapilly, Pariyaram and Pattikkad forest ranges. Leopard is a nocturnal feeder that prefers domestic dogs and cattle when it visits villages. Most incidents occurred in the immediate forest fringes of as close as 50 metres to the forest.

During the study, conducted by E.A Jaison and Suresh K. Govind of the Wildlife Division of the institute, 13 sightings of leopard were recorded from Palapilly, Sholayar, Pariyaram, Pattikkad and Vellikulangara forest ranges. Two female leopards, aged below 4 years, were caged from Malakkapara (Sholayar Forest Range) and translocated.

Leopards don’t go after humans and prey on them. However, close encounter with the animal can be dangerous. Animals which feel threatened could turn extremely risky. People should exercise caution during the morning and evening hours when they become very active, he said.

The study indicated that the “reduction of natural prey within the forest limits, fragmentation of habitat and alteration of countryside” created a suitable habitat for leopards in the fringe areas. Researchers indicated that “all the areas of leopard attack on humans had an ideal habitat for them. In the first incident at Athirapilly Forest Range, central Kerala, good habitat near the area of attack, dogs in the human habitation, cattle rearing, free grazing of cattle and the water availability amplified the human-leopard conflict”.

P.S. Easa, Head of the Wildlife Division of the institute, said leopards, being fierce defenders of their territory, might find it tough to settle down when translocated to other regions. The guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests earlier had prohibited the translocation of problematic leopards and it suggested that the animals should be kept in captivity, he said.

The disturbances in the fringe areas of the forest may force them to look for new pastures. The problematic animals should be radio-collared while translocating them so that their movements could be tracked. Though some proposals were forwarded to the State authorities for procuring them, nothing much has progressed, he said.

Translocating the problematic ones without monitoring its movements would amount to shifting the problem to some other place than managing it, he said.

Dr. Jaison said prominent male and young leopards would fight the weaker ones, forcing them to the fringe areas of forests. Weaker ones would be forced to look for unoccupied territory or move to fringe areas. Such situations could occur when the leopards were translocated to new territories, he said.

More In: Kochi