In the end, it is a question of how humans perceive wild animals

Space, or the lack of it, has prompted wildlife activists to wonder if human beings and carnivores can ever co-exist.

Vidya Athreya, a wildlife biologist, started Project Waghoba in Maharashtra in 2003 to understand the changing behavioural patterns of the wild cats and humans in protected and non-protected areas.

“Can we co-exist peacefully? Different scientists will have different answers, and none will be too definitive. The answer, I feel, is a study in progress. But it is true that wild animals are known to venture out of protected areas, and when that happens, we need to have awareness among people on how to deal with it,” Ms. Athreya told The Hindu.

“It is an old mindset, entrenched in the belief that wildlife only survives in protected areas. But surprisingly, rural people are more aware of animal behaviour,” she said. Leopards, hyenas, elephants, wolves and lions are known to wander out of the wild. “For example, in the case of wolves, each pack requires a region of about 300 sq. km. Where is that kind of space available,” she asked.

The findings of Project Waghoba suggest that the situation is improving in the Junnar Forest Division, where the maximum leopard-human conflict occurred in Maharashtra. “Leopards were collared and left out in the open. The area covered by them was later studied,” Ms. Athreya said. According to statistics collected by Junnar Forest Department, the leopard attacks on humans has come down to more than half from 2005 to 2010, compared with 2000 to 2005.

In 2011, Ms. Athreya contributed to the report prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Forests on the leopard-human conflict. The report suggested that subsidies be given for building sheds for livestock to protect them from leopards, and co-ordination between Forest Department officials and police be improved in handling conflict.

However, things are changing slowly. “Emergency response teams are being trained, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is making efforts to ensure that humans don’t harm the animals,” she said.

“There is a level of education and awareness that is necessary. In the end, it is a question of how humans perceive wild animals,” Ms. Athreya said. The process of monitoring the behaviour of the wild animals is not easy. To engage more people and learn from the experiences of others, several organisations have come together to form,, where people can report sightings outside protected areas. “When we know where animals are sighted, it brings us closer to the answer, why they do so and how we can learn to live with them,” she said.