Study finds 2,500 leopards in Karnataka

A leopard caught by a camera trap.

Scripting a new chapter in conservation at the national level, Karnataka on Wednesday achieved yet another milestone by becoming the first state to scientifically estimate the population of leopards, after elephants and tigers.

The latest study spanning six years by scientists of Nature Conservation Foundation in collaboration with Karnataka Forest Department (KFD) has revealed that Karnataka is estimated to have about 2,500 spotted cats.

The survey and study comprising about 15 people, including conservation scientists, was led by wildlife expert Sanjay Gubbi. Though the estimate of leopards’ population was carried out in isolated geographical patches, this is for the first time a scientific estimation was done for an entire state.

The study will also give researchers and forest officials a greater insight into the life of leopards and thereby help devise measures to resolve the rising man-animal conflict in several regions of the state.

The study highlighted that leopards, the competing carnivores with tigers, have been found in greater density in places where there were no tigers. “The only competitor to leopards in these areas are wild dogs (dhols),” Gubbi said.

“Hence, they are seen in many parts of the state. Be it the evergreen forests, dry deciduous or shrub forests of hinterland area, leopards are seen everywhere. But in the tiger-dominated landscape, their presence is very minimal,” Gubbi explained.

Evidently, the Bhadravati region in Shivamogga district interspersed with rocky terrain has the highest density of leopards in Karnataka, according to the study. This is followed by Tumakuru and Ballari regions.

“Adopting a sampling-based camera trap exercise, we had identified individual leopards based on the rosette patterns on their bodies.

The images of right and left flank patterns have been documented which helps in identification of leopards. Subsequently, based on statistical modules, the number of leopards were estimated,” Gubbi revealed.

The team has presented to the forest department a documentation of 363 leopards.

The team comprising researchers Harish N S, Poornesha H C, Ashritha Anoop, Rashmi Bhat, Sandesh Appu Naik, Gnanendra L, Ravidas G and others carried out extensive field studies in Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary, MM Hills, BRT Tiger Reserve, Timmalapura Wildlife Sanctuary, Jayamangali Conservation Reserve, protected forests in Tumakuru, Ramanagaram, Mysuru, Bengaluru Urban, Rural, Shivamogga, Ballari and Chitradurga divisions.

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