Spotted in the city: What draws leopards to Bengaluru?

Leopards in and around Bengaluru seem to have been in the news a lot lately.  What has the wild cat got to do in the garden city?

November 08, 2023 09:00 am | Updated 03:23 pm IST - Bengaluru

Human-leopard conflicts have increased in recent days resulting in their capture and translocation.

Human-leopard conflicts have increased in recent days resulting in their capture and translocation. | Photo Credit: SRIRAM MA

After the efforts to capture a leopard found near Kudlu Gate resulted in its death, yet another big cat has been reportedly sighted near Chikka Togur off NICE road.

Earlier this year a leopard spotted near Kengeri was captured by the forest department. Two leopards were found prowling in the outskirts of the city last year too – one in the Turahalli state forest area and the other not far from the Kempegowda International Airport. In February 2016, a leopard entered the VIBGYOR school in Whitefield.

Leopards in and around Bengaluru seem to have been in the news a lot lately.  What has the wild cat got to do in the garden city?

Video grab from CCTV, of Leopard stray in one of the apartment’s first floor on October 28, 2023, at Singasandra area, off Hosur road.

Video grab from CCTV, of Leopard stray in one of the apartment’s first floor on October 28, 2023, at Singasandra area, off Hosur road. | Photo Credit: TH

Why are leopard sightings frequent on the outskirts of Bengaluru?

Bengaluru is located in the Deccan Plateau which has some of the oldest rock formations of the earth. This landmass which was a result of continental drift and movement of the Indian plate features huge granite boulders.

The rocky outcrops and scrub forests which are one of the most striking features of the Deccan Plateau are ideal habitats for leopards.

Sanjay Gubbi

Sanjay Gubbi | Photo Credit: Albert Francis J@Chennai

Bengaluru has transformed into an urban expanse over the years, however, the rocky outcrops and dry deciduous forests continue to exist in some areas around the city. Similar landscapes can also be seen around Mysuru, Ramanagara and Channapatna making it all conducive environments for the solitary and nocturnal beasts.

Which areas around Bengaluru make for natural leopard habitats?

“If you go towards Kanakpura Road in South Bengaluru, you see dry deciduous forest all the way from NICE Road up to Bannerghatta National Park. That area continues to have leopards because those are natural habitats of leopards,” says Sanjay Gubbi, conservationist and author of Leopard Diaries: The Rosette in India.

“In this region, there are landscapes such as B.M. Kaaval and UM Kaaval Reserve Forests, TK Falls, Gollahalli Gudda and so on. All those areas still have leopards because they continue to be their natural habitats,” he adds.

The male leopard was caught inside RMP campus on the outskirts of Mysuru in January 2023.

The male leopard was caught inside RMP campus on the outskirts of Mysuru in January 2023. | Photo Credit: M A Sriram

Mr. Gubbi notes that in North Bengaluru, places such as Hesaraghatta and certain areas around NICE Road towards Tumkur offer suboptimal habitats to leopards.

Sub-optimal habitats are not natural homes, but environments that could give temporary cover for a short duration and allow passage between natural habitats. These temporary refuges could be agricultural fields with tall crops such as maize, mulberry and so on. In the Mysuru area, the big cats often use sugar cane fields as temporary habitats.

“A mix of natural habitats of scrubland and temporary suboptimal habitats supports leopards,” Gubbi points out.

Are these habitats big enough for a large carnivore?

“A leopard’s body size is not very large like that of a tiger. They can survive on smaller prey,” explains Gubbi.

An adult male tiger could weigh up to 250 kg and needs about 300 kg of meat a week. To find such a large amount of food, it has to wander a longer distance making its habitat very large.

On the other hand, a leopard needs about four kgs of meat a day. That makes smaller animals like a black-naped hare or a porcupine their natural prey, and their habitat smaller in area.

In sub-optimal habitats like farms and fields, however, it could be difficult to come across such natural prey.

In such circumstances, the next best option would be livestock such as goat or sheep, or simply, dogs.

So, the highly adaptable wild beast easily shifts its diet from natural prey to domestic prey. This helps them to survive in habitats around Bengaluru.  

Wild Leopard which entered Vibgyor School premises attacked a member of the rescue team during a rescue operation at the school premises in Bengaluru in February  2016.

Wild Leopard which entered Vibgyor School premises attacked a member of the rescue team during a rescue operation at the school premises in Bengaluru in February 2016. | Photo Credit: SAMPATH KUMAR GP

Are leopards straying more into the city?

According to Mr. Gubbi, there are about 30-35 leopards on the outskirts of Bengaluru and about 40 of them in the Bannerghatta National Park located right at the edge of the city. 

But Bengaluru’s urban expansion has been quick, exponential and often mindless engulfing the rocky outcrops and dry deciduous forests in its outskirts.

As per the World Population Review, Bengaluru’s population which was 6.3 million in 2003 is currently at 13.6 million, a 115 per cent increase in 20 years! If the urbanized area was 226 sq km in 1995, today the city is as large as 741 sq km.

Not only does this kind of urban expansion shrink natural habitats of wildlife but also hinders the movement and continuity between natural habitats, especially for large mammals.

While leopards have always existed on the fringes of the city in the patches of scrub forests and rocky outcrops, Mr. Gubbi notes that leopard sightings inside the city is very new.

“These are very stray instances where the leopards have strayed out of their natural area and have come into these kinds of really unsuitable habitats. That is one part of it.”

“The other part is that these days you also see or hear a lot about leopards these days because everybody has a CCTV camera at home. If not a large part of these sightings would have gone unreported as people wouldn’t even realise that there are leopards around their farm. Today, you see a leopard on the CCTV, you take a video of it on your phone and put it on social media. So, that’s why there is also a perceived increase in leopard sightings,” Gubbi adds.

Do only old and weak leopards stray into human inhabitations?

Most leopards that stray into the city could be old or injured animals that are unable to hunt natural prey. But, in certain cases, they could also be very young animals looking for new territory.

The leopards spotted in 2016 and 2022 were young individuals whereas the animal shot dead near Kudlu Gate was estimated to be 12 years old. Another set of smaller pugmarks belonging to that of a younger individual was also reportedly spotted at Kudlu Gate.

Officials suspect that the leopard spotted near NICE road could have been the same individual which probably moved to the new area from Kudlu Gate.

Wildlife biologist Dr. Sanjay Gubbi takes morphometric measurements of a male leopard that was placed with a radio collar to monitor its movements.

Wildlife biologist Dr. Sanjay Gubbi takes morphometric measurements of a male leopard that was placed with a radio collar to monitor its movements. | Photo Credit: Srinivasan V@Chennai

What has been the cost of human-leopard conflicts?

As urban encroachments eat into leopard habitats and the wild creature tries to make room for itself within the fast-changing environment, the number of conflicts goes up.

In August 2022 in Belagavi a leopard attacked a construction worker and left him with injuries. Between October and December 2022, two people were killed in leopard attacks in Mysuru.

Earlier this year in July a six-year-old girl succumbed to her injuries from a leopard attack in Chamarajanagar. In December 2022, then-chief minister Basavaraj Bommai announced a compensation of Rs 15 lakhs for the kin of those killed in leopard attacks.

The cost of the conflicts has not just been human lives.

The leopard spotted near Kudlu Gate was shot dead after it attacked and injured three personnel during the rescue operation. In 2016, the leopard that entered VIBGYOR school, before being tranquilised, attacked rescue workers including Gubbi.

In June a man was arrested near Bandipur for killing a leopard that preyed on his pet dog. In 2021 a man from Bendekere strangulated a leopard that attacked him and his family who were travelling on a bike.

In February this year, a leopard collided with a speeding vehicle on a highway in Davanagere and died instantly. Between 2014 and 2017 ten leopards were killed in vehicle accidents on NH 275 which connects Mangaluru and Bengaluru.

Gubbi, in his book Leopard Diaries, notes that the highest number of large cats bumped off by speeding vehicles seem to be leopards.

Wild Leopard which entered Vibgyor School premises coming out of the premises during a rescue operation at the school premises in February 2016.
Photo: G.P. Sampath Kumar.

Wild Leopard which entered Vibgyor School premises coming out of the premises during a rescue operation at the school premises in February 2016. Photo: G.P. Sampath Kumar. | Photo Credit: SAMPATH KUMAR GP

How to avoid conflict when a leopard is sighted in your neighbourhood?

“The foremost thing is awareness and the acceptance that these animals have continued to survive in this place and will continue to do so,” says Gubbi.

“The best way to deal with it is to accept that we have to coexist with them and understand what are the basic precautions we need to take to avoid unfortunate incidents,” he notes adding that usually, people in semi-urban areas or villages around Bengaluru are more accepting of the animal’s presence.

The second important thing is to take precautions.

“Just because Bengaluru’s traffic is bad you don’t leave the city or ask the entire traffic to be banned, right? You understand how to follow traffic rules and then see what precautions to be taken while driving. The same principle applies to coexisting with leopards too,” Mr. Gubbi says.

Precautions to avoid conflict situations
• If you are on foot, and spot a leopard at close quarters, give it 30 seconds to a minute to come out of the initial surprise, and then walk back calmly and slowly. But always keep an eye on the leopard.
• If one encounters a leopard don’t panic or run. Stay calm and walk away slowly. Don’t immediately sit down or hide when you see a leopard.
• It is best not to crowd around a wild cat. If the leopard is sighted in a farm or a building, don’t circulate videos and photographs, as this could encourage people to crowd around it.
• All that glows is not gold. All that’s circulated on WhatsApp is also not true.
• Leopards occasionally enter buildings. In such situations, quietly close the door and inform the forest department.
• In case there are leopards in your area, keep pets such as dogs, cats, poultry indoors or secure them in an enclosed space at night.
• Keep any vacant plots in your area free of bushes and unwanted plant growth.
• Dispose off meat and poultry waste properly. Throwing them in the open attracts dogs, and they are prey for leopards.
• If you have a farm where you need to switch on the pump at night, explore technological solutions such as SIM card-activated mobile starters.
Courtesy: Sanjay Gubbi

Ecologists and conservationists note that it also takes commitment from political leaders and bureaucrats to avert unfortunate incidents. Urban planning has often failed to take wildlife into consideration while expanding the city, designing roads or building other kinds of infrastructure. Experts also point out that there is a lot of scope for improvement in the kind of training being given to concerned personnel and preparing them for emergency situations.  

What is the existing mechanism to address leopard situations?

On November 6, the Karnataka Forest, Ecology and Environment Minister Eshwar B Khandre announced plans to set up a dedicated rapid response leopard task force in Bengaluru city for quick response, after repeated sightings of leopards in different parts of the city.

The forest department has been instructed to capture wild animals that stray into the city. The captured animals have to be released into forests or sent to rehabilitation centres.

The forest minister also suggested setting up task forces for every three districts with hilly and forest areas.

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