Karnataka — home to a high density of tigers — harbours the second highest number of leopards in the country after Madhya Pradesh, according to a new report.
The ‘Status of Leopard in India, 2018’ report released on Monday reinforces Karnataka’s position as a pre-eminent wildlife State that has some of the highest number of tigers, elephants, and now leopards.
The report released by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, noted that Karnataka has 1,783 leopards and the results are in sync with similar studies on the spotted cat conducted by wildlife biologists in the State.
The leopard estimates by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and Wildlife Institute of India were based on sampling in forested habitats in tiger range areas of the country and did not cover other habitats known to harbour leopards — mainly in coffee and tea plantations and other landscapes. Hence the actual leopard population could be higher and these numbers should be considered as minimum, as per the Ministry.
While the minimum number of leopards for Karnataka is pegged at 1,712, the maximum is reckoned to be 1,854, as per the new study. The Western Ghats landscape harbours 3,387 leopards of which 86 are in Goa, 1,783 in Karnataka, 650 in Kerala and 868 in Tamil Nadu.
The study revealed that leopards were recorded across much of the dry forests of central Karnataka region. In the Western Ghats landscape in Karnataka, leopards were found in the forests covering Haliyal, Kali Tiger Reserve, Karwar, Honnavar, Madikeri, Kudremukh, Shettihalli Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhadra, and Chikkamagaluru forests. Leopards were tracked in the forests covering southern Karnataka forests, including Virajpet, Nagarahole, Bandipur, BRT Hills, M.M. Hills, Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, and Bannerghatta National Park.
The report noted that growing human population and increasing fragmentation in the landscape increased human-wildlife interactions and the coffee estates surrounded by forests were frequently visited by leopards and were a major hub for human-leopard conflicts.
A similar study exclusively on leopards conducted in Karnataka by a team of wildlife biologists led by Sanjay Gubbi pegged the leopard population in the State at around 2,500. These numbers are higher as the study covered the non-forested areas, including habitats outside the reserve forests, rocky outcrops, and private land, besides covering Thimmalapura Wildlife Sanctuary, Jayamangali Conservation Reserve, and leopard habitats across Tumakuru, Ramanagaram, Mysuru, Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural, Bhadravati, Ballari, and Chitradurga forest divisions.
Karnataka harbours 524 tigers as per the 2018 estimates and nearly 7,000 elephants, which is almost 25% of the total elephant population in the country. Ajai Misra, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), said the report was based on the data collected during tiger census conducted in 2018 and has been processed using the same methodology.
“As the carnivore populations are high in Karnataka, it also means that there is abundance of prey for their survival and proves that wildlife conservation in Karnataka was on the right path, he added.