Leopards, humans can co-exist: Study

Year-long research conducted by wildlife scientist Dr Vidya Athreya reveals the presence of leopards around human settlements is not always ‘stray’ or ‘conflict’

A year-long study, comprising the first-ever GPS-based monitoring of five leopards via radio-collaring, has shed new light on the behaviour of the big cat and helped bust myths that the animal belongs in the forest only.

Dr Vidya Athreya (extreme right) and other scientists collaring Ajoba. The leopard was rescued from a well in Parner in Ahmednagar district
Dr Vidya Athreya (extreme right) and other scientists collaring Ajoba. The leopard was rescued from a well in Parner in Ahmednagar district

The study, conducted by Dr Vidya Athreya in association with other scientists, has revealed that the presence of leopards in and around human settlements is not always ‘stray’ or ‘conflict’.

Forest officials associated with the Bombay Territorial Range of Thane Forest Department feel that the result can be shared with the people residing in Aarey Milk Colony or the areas where human-leopard conflicts are common.

Officials say this will help bust myths in the minds of the residents who feel that all the leopards taking shelter in the colony have strayed out of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). “Whenever there is a man-animal conflict in Aarey Colony, the first thing that residents, tribals and local politicians claim is that the leopard has come from SGNP.

They even assert that the animal must be captured and released back into the national park. With the help of research conducted by Dr Athreya and others, we will be able to explain to people about how humans and leopards can co-exist peacefully,” said an official from Thane forest department.

As part of the survey, five leopards (including three females) perceived as ‘problem animals’ were captured from human-dominated areas and radio-collared for the study. None of these leopards were involved in man-animal conflict.

While two leopards were translocated more than 50 km away, the other three were released near the sites of their capture. Of the five leopards, four were radio-collared in Maharashtra and one in Himachal Pradesh.

While Jai and Laxxai were captured from the densely populated Akole Tehsil in Ahmednagar, Ajoba was rescued from a well in Parner (Ahmednagar). Sita was captured from a residential apartment in Surghana (Nashik).

The fifth leopard, Charlotte, was captured in a box trap near Shimla. Scientists monitored the leopards’ activities from the time of their release, recording their behaviour including strategies they adopt to avoid direct contact with people.

On the move
“The two translocated animals moved 89 km and 45 km, respectively, successfully making their way through human habitats, including industrial areas.

The other three animals spent most of their time near the capture sites, until their collars went dead. The animals covered an average of 340 meters per hour in the night, as against 60 meters per hour during daytime,” said Athreya.

She added that though the number of leopards studied is small, it clearly indicated that these big cats flourished in and around human habitats. Citing the result, Athreya also stressed on the futility of translocations as one of the management strategies, as translocated animals moved away from the release sites.

“None of these animals claimed human lives during capture or post-release, indicating that the mere presence of animals around human settlements does not mean conflict. But the potential of conflicts could increase with unwanted translocation,” Athreya said.

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