A recent study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India Program on human-leopard interactions in India calls for a shift in management focus, from current reactive practices such as removal and translocation of leopards, to proactive measures that ensure safety of human lives, livelihoods, their property, enhance people’s acceptance of wildlife outside protected areas, and expand potential habitat for threatened species.
The study published in Plos One , the peer-reviewed open access scientific journal, on November 10 was conducted by Vidya Athreya, Arjun Srivathsa, Mahi Puri, Krithi K. Karant, N. Samba Kumar, and K. Ullas Karanth.
Sample study area
The Western Ghats forests of Karnataka were chosen as the sample study area. “While the role of protected areas is critical, these cats despite their preference for intact forest habitats can thrive outside protected areas, given adequate prey and cover conditions,” the study says.
According to the study, additional cover and prey base available in unprotected forests, agro-forests, plantations and orchards and rocky escarpments do play a crucial role in supporting a large leopard population outside the designated reserves.
India’s countryside, in some regions, supports high densities of feral, semi-feral, free-ranging, and domestic dogs. The findings suggest that dogs (as prey), rather than livestock, are more important in explaining leopard presence outside forests. Dogs constitute around 40 per cent of the biomass in leopard diet in a human-use landscape.
In contrast, other felids like Asiatic lions and tigers prey substantially on livestock in human-use areas. Although smaller livestock species like goat and sheep do contribute to leopard diet it is likely that they are better protected by their owners, as compared to domestic or free-ranging dogs.
“Translocation of leopards merely after a sighting appears to be lowering people’s traditional socio-cultural tolerance of leopard presence, in the absence of any attacks. In the long run, such lowering of acceptance of wildlife in shared spaces would lead to a decline in potential leopard habitats and population recovery of a threatened species that has suffered massive contraction of its global range,” the study says.
The study suggests that livestock losses could be mitigated with measures that focus on assisting farmers in better husbandry practices, issuing prompt and just compensation for losses, and awareness on the distribution patterns of leopards in human-use landscapes.