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Almost half of Karnataka ‘lives’ with leopards

Interestingly, leopard cubs were spotted in 18 taluks, which indicates an "active, breeding" population of the feline thriving amid agricultural land.

November 13, 2015 10:01 am | Updated 10:01 am IST - Bengaluru:Bengaluru:

According to a study, the leopard is found in 70 of the 175 taluks in the State and with leopard 'attacks' have been reported in 51 taluks. — FILE PHOTO: M.A. SRIRAM

According to a study, the leopard is found in 70 of the 175 taluks in the State and with leopard 'attacks' have been reported in 51 taluks. — FILE PHOTO: M.A. SRIRAM

In many districts of the State, it isn’t just the stray dog or pesky rodent which skulks around the village. It is also the sly and highly adaptable feline, the leopard.

In perhaps the most stark evidence of the ability of man and animal living in relative harmony, researchers have tabulated that leopards occupy around 84,000 sq. km (or 47 per cent of the State’s area) outside protected forest areas in the State. The protected cat was found in 70 taluks of the 175 in the State; with leopard “attacks” being reported in 51 taluks.

Interestingly, leopard cubs were spotted in 18 taluks, which indicates an “active, breeding” population of the feline thriving amid agricultural land.

“This indicates that leopards and other wild animals can live close to human being without serious conflict if we proactively deal with their presence,” said Vidya Athreya, leopard researcher and author of the study published in PLOS ONE journal.

She was also critical of the current “expensive” approach of relocating leopard found “strayed” in human areas — for, in many cases, “relocated” leopards returned to their original spot within three months. Aggressive removal of these creatures was, in fact, observed to increase the attacks on livestock.

“We have to stop the reactionary measures. We have to stop waiting for a loss to happen and start helping people through livestock sheds and precautions,” she said.

Dogs and leopards

While areas around the Western Ghats and districts bordering the forests of south Karnataka see higher leopard ‘interactions’, the study notes that even arid areas of Yadgir and Kalaburagi have reported leopard attacks.

Interestingly, the researchers have found a correlation between districts with high population of stray dogs reporting higher leopard population; while livestock seemed not to aid in thriving leopard population. Dogs, it is estimated, account for nearly 40 per cent of a leopard’s diet.

With such a vast area to cover, the researchers relied on media reports of leopard attacks. A total of 223 unique incidents (“attacks”) had been recorded between March 2013 and April 2014 in 11 newspapers, including six English newspapers.

Learning from Mumbai example

A group of women squat by their village, near Pune, as a self-help group meeting gets under way. Unnoticed in the attendance, however, is the graceful leopard staring at the group from the tree.

Researcher Vidya Athreya’s study shows that at least five adult leopards are found every 100 sq. km in the heavily populated Godavari-irrigated region of Maharashtra.

The images have captured the public attention, even seeing the story of Ajoba — an elderly male leopard — being made into a Marathi movie in 2014. Radio-collared in 2009, Ajoba’s incredible journey starts from the Malshej Ghat forest and ends in Mumbai, some 150 km away — over highways and industrial areas without detection and conflict.

Ajoba’s destination was Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, which manages to keep a healthy leopard population despite the bustling metropolis pushing at its seams. Here, conservationists have with success raised awareness among apartment dwellers to co-exist with leopards.


Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca)

International Union for Conservation of Nature classification: Near threatened

Estimated population in India: 12,000 to 14,000

Protection: Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972; included in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, which prevents trade of leopard parts

In Karnataka

Leopards found in 70 of the 175 taluks of the State

Range estimated to be 84,000 sq. km or 47 per cent of the State’s area

Breeding has been observed in nearly 18 taluks

Hotspots: Along the Western Ghats, south Karnataka, Tumakuru, and Ramanagaram


Man-leopard ‘interaction’

At least 223 leopard-related incidents (attack on human beings or livestock, leopard deaths or sightings) reported in 14 months

83 per cent of reported conflict involves attack on livestock

56 leopards captured and shifted in this period

32 people attacked by leopards; three died of injuries

Leopard deaths: 34


Poaching: 9

Unknown: 9

Roadkill and other accidents: 11

Beaten by residents: 4

Natural death: 1

Period of examination: 14 months (March 2013 to April 2014)

Source: Study, ‘Spotted in the News: Using Media Reports to Examine Leopard Distribution, Depredation, and Management Practices outside Protected Areas in Southern India” by Vidya Athreya, Arjun Srivathsa, Mahi Puri, Krithi K. Karanth, N. Samba Kumar, and K. Ullas Karanth


Vidya Atreya, researcher: This shows that leopards occur across large parts of the State and can live close to human beings without serious conflict if we proactively deal with their presence. Making people aware of them and helping them reduce livestock losses can go a long way.

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