Defending leopards in human populated areas as not necessarily or always “stray” or “conflict” animals, a GPS-based study in India said they are good-natured residents with strategies to thrive in these areas.
The study, which observed the secret lives of these big cats, suggests that policy makers need to rethink India’s leopard management strategies, saying they 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, 2 males and 3 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 of the leopards were translocated and released more than 50 km 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.
The leopard (Panthera pardus) is the smallest of the four “big cats” — tiger, lion and jaguar. Except the African leopard, all the species of leopard can be found in India.
Leopards are nocturnal animals, means they are active at night and take rest during the day in thick bushes or on trees and they prefer to lead a solitary life. They are the fastest running animals at over 36 miles per hour, leap over 20 feet and jump up to 10 feet.
(With inputs from IANS)