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Mudumalai, the leopard country

P. Oppili
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Study reveals it has the highest density of the big cats in India

A Wildlife Institute of India (WII) study has revealed that the density of leopards in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) is the highest in the country.

Not just leopards, tigers and wild dogs are also thriving in the dry thorn, deciduous, semi-evergreen forests that have over 20 prey species, also found in abundance.

K. Sankar, senior professor and research coordinator, WII, Dehra Dun, told The Hindu that the abundance of the three carnivores was recorded in the study ‘Sympatric Large Carnivores in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve.’

Observations over three years have revealed an overall density of 28 individual tigers, 31 leopards and 37 wild dogs per 100 sq.km. “Such high density of these three predators in a forest normally does not occur in other areas,” he says. The abundance of leopard in the MTR is the highest in the country.

The availability of different-sized prey species such as spotted deer, sambars, Indian bison and primates helped in the coexistence of the three predators. During the study, a team of researchers recorded 59.4 wild ungulates per sq.km and 32.0 primates per sq.km.

The MTR has continuous forest cover on its three sides: the Wyanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala, in the west; the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, in the north; and the Nilgiris North Forest Division in the south.

Furthermore, increased protection to these forest areas has resulted in the high density of the three carnivores, Mr. Sankar says.   

 Another unique feature of the Western Ghats is that its landscape comprises 21 per cent of the forested area in the country.

The Mudumalai landscape has good potential for long-term survival of both tigers and leopards as the forests are contiguous with the other protected areas in the two neighbouring States, he emphasises.

The study is also a clear indication that the leopards found in urban areas have no bright chances of survival. For instance, leopards captured from urban jungles of Maharashtra and Pauri Garhwal in Uttarakhand returned to the places of capture for lack of prey, he says.

At the same time, the leopards from conflict zones which were captured and shifted to the Sariska Tiger Reserve are not straying out of the protected area, mainly because of the abundance of prey availability, he points out.

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