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Figuring out the truth behind Karnataka numbers in leopard report

The high number of leopards living outside the protected area is a matter of concern as that is resulting in large-scale human-animal conflict. In the last four years, the state lost 23 humans and over 1,200 domestic animals after coming into conflict with leopards.
Last Updated 02 March 2024, 23:24 IST

Hubballi: Nearly 59 per cent of Karnataka’s wild leopards are living outside protected areas. With 1,879 leopards, the state is home to the third largest population of the spotted big cat in India, after Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, according to the union government’s latest report.

The report ‘The Leopard Status in India 2022,’ says 987 leopards are using the territory of the tiger reserves, including the 549 leopards which are living within the five tiger reserves of Karnataka.

Bandipur (138) has the highest leopard population in tiger reserve followed by Kali (124), Bhadra (116) and Nagarahole (105).

However, in terms of leopards utilising the tiger reserve limits, Kali tiger reserve (246) in Uttara Kannada district has the highest leopard population.

Either way, the high number of leopards living outside the protected area is a matter of concern as that is resulting in large-scale human-animal conflict. In the last four years, the state lost 23 humans and over 1,200 domestic animals after coming into conflict with leopards.

Sources in the forest department told DH that nearly 164 leopards died due to natural and unnatural reasons in the last five years.

Larger problem

The report says the conflict between humans and leopards, which was confined mostly to Ramanagar, Tumakuru, Mandya, Mysuru, and Hassan districts, initially, has now spread to Ballari, Koppal, Kolar, Bengaluru Rural, Dharwad, Davangere, Hassan, Haveri, Koppa (Chikkamagaluru district), Mangaluru, Sagar (Shivamogga district), Sirsi (Uttara Kannada district) and Virajpet (Kodagu district).

Experts say the conflict is human-made, as development work, shrinking of forested areas, improper solid waste management and unscientific conservation have resulted in more conflict with leopards.

“Leopards are intelligent animals that can adapt to any habitat. The increase in conflicts in urban and rural areas is due to multiple reasons, including availability of easy prey,” says a senior forest officer in Kali tiger reserve.

Scientific conservation

Forest department officials are often forced to consider the translocation of leopards in conflict with humans as the only solution to resolve the problem. However, experts say translocation only increases conflict at multiple places.

Leopards are highly territorial animals. Over the years, they have learnt to adjust themselves in the mosaics of coffee estates, plantations and forests in semi-urban set-up. 

They can sustain themselves by consuming livestock, domesticated dogs and human-subsidized food sources (dumped meat and carcasses of cattle). 

“A translocated leopard that has lived long in sugarcane fields or near human habitation by preying on cattle finds it difficult to survive in thick jungles of Western Ghats, where it needs to hunt prey. The translocation can also lead to more territorial conflicts and straying away of the weaker leopard to other human habitations,” says the officer. 

Mitigating conflict

Nikit Surve, project head at Wildlife Conservation Society, who is conducting an intense study on urban leopards, says: “The best solution to mitigate human-leopard conflict is to understand the problem in depth by shifting focus from the animal to humans who are the major stakeholders. Mitigation measures like proactive awareness sessions and safeguarding livestock and other domestic animals can help resolve the problem on a long-term basis. Capturing and shifting leopards is more of a fire-fighting solution. One has to understand the reasons why a leopard is present in a particular area and deal with the reason, instead of the leopard itself. Removing one or two leopards will not stop other leopards from occupying vacant territories.”

He negates the idea that animal birth control of leopards is a solution as it has failed miserably in controlling stray dog population. 

Kumar Pushkar, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), says the increasing trend in the leopard population is a positive thing from the point of conservation, but the increasing number of leopards in landscapes outside the forest is a major challenge and has resulted in large-scale man-animal conflict.

“As of now, the forest department is not considering leopards as a major threat and taking all measures to prevent loss of human lives as well as livestock,” he said.

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(Published 02 March 2024, 23:24 IST)

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