Monday, February 22, 2016

Here's Wildlife Expert's Advice on How to Live With Leopards

By Meera Bhardwaj
Published: 22nd February 2016
BENGALURU: People have to learn to live with leopards as not only the population of these big cats has increased in the last three decades they are now living more outside the protected areas (PAs). With reports of existent resident populations on the city outskirts, they usually come in search of easy prey like stray dogs during night time.

According to wildlife experts, living with leopards peacefully is possible as the big cats exist for most parts without people even being aware of their presence. However, mobbing cornered leopards, hampering officials who are dealing with such problems, etc, have to be avoided. When there are those rare cases of deliberate predation on humans, as it happened in Ballari district recently, such leopards should be killed. But most of the times, they are harmless and shy animals and keep away from humans, they say.
Ullas Karanth
Noted tiger scientist Dr Ullas Karanth, Director for Science-Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) says, “Nothing has changed in the last two weeks, except people getting needlessly anxious about the incident at the school where a leopard mauled a few people who were blocking its way as it tried to escape. There is no increased conflict or any immediate threat to people in the area that has suddenly erupted.”
Increasing Population

There is no reliable data on the percentage of increase in leopard population in India. However, Karnataka may be having 5,000-10,000 leopards even assuming a very low density of 0.5 to 1 leopard per 100 sq km. As per studies by WCS, in Karnataka leopards occupy at least 80,000 sq km area outside PAs and this may add up to another 10,000.

Protected areas constitute a small fraction of Karnataka’s area, just 300,000 sq km, while leopard populations are widespread over the state.

In fact, there are certainly more leopards outside protected areas.
There are hundreds of leopards living in and around rural areas and towns of many districts of the state.

Boom After Hunting Ban

Leopard numbers and their range have increased in last three decades after hunting was banned. Their prey base in the form of domestic dogs has also increased. Most leopards that come to the city are from rural landscapes and they are not coming from some faraway reserve forests.

‘Only Little Intervention Needed’

Srinivasulu, Director, Kali Tiger Reserve says they have been holding awareness campaigns regularly and recently, 2,000 children living in and around the reserve were involved in a campaign with talks, installing posters in affected areas, etc. “However, I feel we should not make it an issue because the more we speak about wildlife, the more the people panic. Only a little intervention is needed to give confidence to the people,” he adds.

The Mumbai Model

On the need of awareness campaigns, Ullas Karanth says, “I agree that awareness and response programmes of the right kind, such as the one wildlife biologist Vidya Athreya has developed in collaboration with the Maharashtra Forest Department will be useful. Having ineffective or incompetent programmes such as indiscriminate capture and translocation of leopards or untrained NGOs meddling may not help, but possibly harm the cause of leopard protection.”

Leopards stay in crop lands, put their cubs in the safest places and farmers look after these cubs and there are no attacks.

It is a peaceful situation in the farm lands of Maharashtra, says Vidya Athreya. “Leopards have always been in these areas and it is people who are influential and can pressurize and raise a hue and cry that they are moving to these places. We have to learn to share our space with them. In fact, a micro-chipped leopard that was captured and relocated, killed three people. Therefore, relocation creates more problems. Removal of leopards does not work at all as it is again occupied by another animal.”

“We launched 'Mumbaikars for SGNP' in areas around Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which has a healthy population of 35 leopards and people have learned to live with these big cats overcoming their fear. With a high density of people living around the park, the big cats still thrive. Our initiative in Mumbai can work as a model for other cities with a resident population of these animals,” adds Athreya.


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