Karnataka

Unsecure wells pose threat to leopards, says study

A leopard that fall into a dry well in Tumkuru district

A leopard that fall into a dry well in Tumkuru district   | Photo Credit: By Special Arrangement

There were 70 incidents of leopards falling into open wells between 2008 and 2017

The elusive leopards, which have been deprived of attention in conservation circles, are facing an unconventional threat in Karnataka: of unsecured open wells.

A new paper highlights how open wells are emerging as a new threat to the leopards given the high number of incidents of the spotted big cats falling into them.

The paper titled “Big cat in well: An unconventional threat to leopards in southern India” has been published in the scientific journal Oryx by wildlife researcher and conservationist Sanjay Gubbi of Nature Conservation Foundation and his team.

The distribution of incidents of leopards (Panthera pardus) falling into unsecured, open wells in Karnataka.

The distribution of incidents of leopards (Panthera pardus) falling into unsecured, open wells in Karnataka.  

The paper is the first scientific documentation of the emerging threat to leopards, which are already threatened and pushed to the brink due to habitat loss, drop in the number of natural prey species, retaliatory killing due to conflict, poaching for body parts and road kills.

As many as 70 incidents of leopards falling into unsecured wells during the period between 2008 and 2017 have been recorded in the study.

According to the authors of the study, these incidents were recorded from 10 districts in the State and the highest was reported from Udupi district (36) followed by Tumakuru (9), Ramanagaram (8) and Uttara Kannada (8).

The highest number of falls occurred during the pre-monsoon and monsoon (53%) possibly as a result of the lower visibility at this time, especially in high rainfall areas like Udupi and Uttara Kannada, said the study. The falls in districts like Tumakuru and Ramanagaram were into dry wells, according to the study.

In most cases, the forest department rescued the leopards. Twenty-nine (41%) of the leopards were translocated after medical inspection and treatment, if required, 28 (40%) were released at the same site or were assisted to escape on their own, eight leopards (11%) died as a result of the fall and five (7%) were sent to zoos, with serious injuries.

“These falls can lead to stress, injury, and death of the leopard, and also pose a risk to people if the leopard manages to escape from the well. With leopards being increasingly documented in human-settled areas, any open wells will need to be securely covered to prevent any increase in this emerging threat,” says Mr. Gubbi, the lead author of the study.

The other authors are Aparna Kolekar, Pallabi Chakraborthi all from the Nature Conservation Foundation, and Vijaya Kumara of Kuvempu University, Shimogga.

All the wells that witnessed leopard falls were unsecured and open, and many did not have stairs or a platform that would allow an animal to escape.

Hence the authors suggest that the forest department should take up the initiative of covering these unsecured wells under the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA), Eco-development Committees and other community conservation initiatives.

The researchers also recorded 27 incidents of other wildlife species falling into open wells during the same period, including sloth bear, elephant, gaur, sambar chital, muntjac, blackbuck, Bengal fox, mugger and small Indian civet. These incidents resulted in 11 mortalities.

This emerging threat assumes greater importance in the background that the leopard has been recently uplisted from Near Threatened to Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, say the authors.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 6:00:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/unsecure-wells-pose-threat-to-leopards-says-study/article30278012.ece

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