Leopards in a spot

Anyone who has lived in this city can vouch for the fact that the city has grown enormously over the last two decades, and areas that were once farmlands or wilderness areas are now part of the city. This process is called urban sprawl.
Last Updated : 02 November 2023, 20:52 IST

Follow Us :


Leopards are large carnivores, and sighting one in a city like Bengaluru always causes a buzz. Leopards are now back in the news, with close-circuit camera footage showing an individual darting across the road at night and wandering into the lift lobby of an apartment in the southeast part of Bengaluru. Over the last three days, people were panic-stricken, teams were deployed to patrol the area, and a leopard task force was deployed to try and capture the cat. Hundreds of people turned up to watch the spectacle. The animal was cornered, and it injured the people who were trying to capture it. It was eventually shot and transported to the hospital, where it died.

The hype around sighting a carnivore and the subsequent fear stem from the notion that wildlife belongs to the forest and people belong to the city. The evidence, however, is contrary to this notion. Leopards are widespread across the country, and an assessment made in 2020 indicates that there were anywhere between 12 and 13 thousand leopards in India. An older study from 2015 estimated about 1,700 leopards in Karnataka. While many of these individuals live in forests that are considered protected areas, others live amidst human-dominated landscapes. In Maharashtra, for instance, work done by Dr Vidya Atreya shows that leopards live on the fringes of Mumbai in proximity to people, especially at the edge of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. In an article she wrote earlier this year, she explains how her team tracked leopards using radio collars and a microchip to determine recaptures in other parts of Maharashtra. Many of the leopards were living entirely in sugarcane fields and preying on stray dogs, among other prey. In Karnataka, work undertaken by Dr. Sanjay Gubbi and his team points out that across the districts of Bengaluru Urban and Rural, Tumkur, and Mysore, leopards persist, often in proximity to people and human settlements. The story repeats in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and many other cities across the country.

The leopard spotted in Singasandra is not an exception. Surveillance is widespread in a city like Bengaluru, and the camera captures all sorts of things, and this time, it caught the leopard taking a stroll. Historically, leopards have always been around in Bengaluru, especially on its outskirts. If one moves away from the city, encountering leopards is a regular
affair, especially for a farm worker or a livestock herder. It is only in the city that an instance of a sighting gets splattered across the news and social media.


Anyone who has lived in this city can vouch for the fact that the city has grown enormously over the last two decades, and areas that were once farmlands or wilderness areas are now part of the city. This process is called urban sprawl, where human habitation expands outward with a densely populated center. It is expected that nearly half of the world’s population will live in cities by the end of this century. In most big cities, large wildlife such as leopards is extirpated, and interactions with wildlife are limited to animals such as macaques that are perceived to be less dangerous. However, cities do not exist in isolation.

The city draws in resources from all around it and puts out its refuse in the surrounding areas. The boundary between what is an urban area and what is a rural landscape is blurred. ‘Rurbanity’ is a new framework that hopes to make cities resilient and sustainable by intentionally retaining rural elements in urban settings. For Bengaluru, this would mean making a conscious effort to retain natural spaces and not just manicured gardens or parks.

Bengaluru is on the precipice of growing into a megalopolis. The issues that plague the city are already plentiful, and in the future, if a business-as-usual approach is taken, things are only going to get worse. The encounters of leopards in the ‘neo’ city are a reminder that we need to be inclusive in our approach. It is about time we considered ecology or wildlife as a key component in our city masterplans. The city still operates an outdated regional masterplan (RMP) made for 2015, and there are no explicit efforts to retain natural scapes beyond lakes and parks. “The time is also ripe to go beyond regional masterplans and start thinking about landscape planning,” said Dr Sudhira H S, researcher at Gubbi Labs. “We also need to go beyond the RMP and start thinking about landscape planning, done with extensive stakeholder representation and engagement,” he added. Doing so would facilitate both a bottom-up and a top-down perspective on reconciling urbanisation and nature conservation.

Human-wildlife conflict

If we went about as we are today, the city would consume vast areas of natural landscape, such as rocky boulder-strewn areas and dry scrub jungles that are the typical habitats outside the city. They also make an excellent habitat for creatures such as leopards. Surely the number of unsavoury encounters will increase. India has had a history of coexistence with wildlife. This is seen across cultures and in the lengthy list of wildlife we revere in our mythology as well. Yet, in cities, this cultural ethos is lost, and there is immense pressure on the administration to solve a problem. If the animal is not immediately killed, it is captured, relocated, or shifted to a zoo.

Often, the laws are interpreted to allow the animal to be shot. Readers may have a vivid memory of the incident from 2016, when a leopard entered a school and injured Dr Sanjay Gubbi, who was assisting in its capture and relocation. What transpired over the last three days seems to have been a repeat of that incident where the leopard was seen, people were injured while trying to capture it, and it was eventually shot dead. Without delving into the pros and cons, one can see that such a strategy is a stop-gap arrangement and is going to be ineffective in the long run.

A start would be to acknowledge that wildlife has been around much before us, and we would have to share the space with them. The next step would be to ensure they too persist in our sea of urbanised settlements by planning how the city grows. There is evidence of this happening in parts of Europe where apex predators, such as wolves, that were extirpated from cities are now returning. Eventually, the fear of nature, dubbed biophobia, needs to be turned into biophilia. Unfortunately, all of this will take time. Meanwhile, more leopards that have been living their lives under the cover of darkness without harming people would walk into a new building or one that is being constructed. They will be spotted on cameras. They will continue to cause panic and will be captured, relocated, or shot. All because we city slickers are suddenly aware of their presence and are terrified.

(The writer is an ecologist and faculty  at ATREE.) 

Published 02 November 2023, 20:52 IST

Follow us on :

Follow Us