The first GPS-based study of leopards in India revealed that leopards in human areas are not always "stray" or "conflict" animals but residents with strategies to thrive in human dominated areas.
The study, which delved into the secret lives of these big cats, suggests that policy makers need to rethink India’s leopard management strategies.
The findings showed that leopards apply tactics to avoid encountering people, despite dependence on their resources.
The study was a collaboration of Vidya Athreya of WCS India (Wildlife Conservation Society), scientists from Norway (Morten Odden from the Hedmark University College and John Linnell from the Norwegian Institute for Nature Research), Sandeep Rattan of the Himachal Pradesh Forest Department, the Maharashtra Forest Department and the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation.
Five leopards (two males and three females), perceived as "problem animals" and captured from human dominated areas despite no predatory attack on people, were radio-collared for the year-long study.
Two were translocated and released more than 50 km (31 miles) away, while the remaining three were released near the site of capture.
Immediately after release, the two translocated animals moved away 89 and 45 km respectively from the release sites.
"This indicated futility of translocation as a management strategy; this could have in fact, aggravated the conflict, as these animals passed through highly human dominated (even industrial) areas," said co-author Vidya Athreya of WCS India.
However, the researchers found that the animals applied tactics to avoid encountering people.
Firstly, the animals mostly moved at night, which timed perfectly with low human activity. They also spent more time closer to homes at night, than during the day.
"This gave them an access to people’s livestock, and yet kept them safe from people," Athreya added.
Two of the females even gave birth to cubs during the course of the study. Despite living in close proximity to humans and even being dependent on their resources, none of the leopards were responsible for human deaths during capture or following release.
The management policy should work towards retaining the acceptance and tolerance of the local people, added the study that appeared in the journal PLOS ONE.
(With inputs from IANS)