Releasing captured leopards in new habitats is not a good idea, wildlife scientists have said after a female lost her three cubs following their journey from Bhimashankar Sanctuary to their ‘home’ in Bori Budruk in Pune’s Junnar taluka earlier this month.
The female leopard was captured after the 70-km journey, during which the cats had crossed three rivers, valleys and highways. It was then that scientists identified her based on an electronic chip — code 00-0683-231c — that was implanted in the cat’s tail in 2006.
Hindustan Times had first reported on December 12, 2006 that the state had been inserting electronic chips in the tails of captured leopards before releasing them in a new forest.
Scientists now say that displacing leopards from their original habitat will only mean the cats will try to return home.
They also say that indiscriminate capture of leopards when no human attacks are reported is not a solution.
“The policy of capturing them indiscriminately would never solve the problem. Besides, they will come back to their original territory,” said Vidya Atreyi, who was in charge of inserting the electronic chips in leopards.
“Over 60 leopards were removed from Junnar between 2001 and 2003,” said Atreyi. “But they are still there and breeding because they belong to this territory. This particular female leopard (who returned from Bhimashankar Sanctuary) was too small when she left this place. Yet, there is an attachment to the territory.”
The state’s chief wildlife warden, Bimal Majumdar, said this is the purpose of the exercise. “We needed to study leopards’ behaviour and learn whether they are prone to return to their territory,” said Majumdar.
But capturing any animal without their attacking humans or causing substantial damage to property and crops contravenes the provisions of Wildlife Protection Act, 1973. Forest department officials said they try not to capture leopards unless more than one attack is reported but are forced to.
“People and politicians build pressure on us to capture a leopard as soon as one is spotted,” said a Junnar forest official on condition of anonymity. “We do it to avoid a conflict although we know it is not right. Leopards and humans have lived in close proximity but we do not want to encourage humans to encroach leopards’ territory.”