In a first of its kind initiative, the wildlife wing of the Himachal forest department will conduct a census to assess the population of leopards in the state. The predatory big cats will be radio collared to study their movements, activities and hunting behaviour and identify human-leopard conflict zones.
“We plan to put radio collars around the leopards’ necks. Each radio collar costs about Rs lakh,” said nodal wildlife officer Satpal Dhiman.
“Like human behavior that of leopards has to be studied. The big cats wandering in the vicinity of the state capital are not predatory while those found in Bilaspur, Rampur and Mandi district are more aggressive “ said Lalit Mohan, principal chief conservator of forests, who is also the state’s chief wildlife warden. “Genetics and hormones play an important role in the behaviour of leopards,” he added.
Addressing participants at an interactive workshop on understanding human-leopard interaction, Mohan said: “The wildlife department will now undertake a survey to assess the leopard population in the state. The last census was conducted in 2005 and currently we don’t know the exact number of leopards in Himachal Pradesh. The workshop was organized jointly organized by the Ruffor Foundation Wildlife Conservation Society in collaboration with the wildlife wing of the Himachal forest department.
Mohan focused on finding long term solutions to reduce conflict between leopards and humans. “During the past one decade leopards have killed at least 30 people in the state, besides injuring 332 residents, 94 of whom sustained serious injuries. The wildlife wing has so far paid Rs 72.21 lakh in compensation to the family members of those who were killed and injured in leopard attacks,” he stated.
Noted wildlife biologist Dr Vida Lathery, who has worked on leopards outside protected areas for over a decade, underlined the need to understand what he called the complex issue of the human-leopard conflict in order to mitigate it. “The declining prey base in the leopards’ habitat has forced them to prowl for prey in human habitation. Caging or killing a leopard isn’t a solution. Human encroachment on leopard territory is one of the factors leading to conflict with them,” she said.