A leopard spotted close to a human settlement is likely to be a ‘resident’ animal and may not have necessarily strayed as is commonly thought, revealed an international study of the first-ever GPS-collared leopards in India.
Shedding light to human-leopard conflict, the team led by wildlife biologist Vidya Athreya of Wildlife Conservation Society radio-collared five leopards and found that the big spotted cats stayed close to homes.
The study assumes significance for Mumbai as it has been witness to numerous cases of man-animal conflict with leopards found in human settlements outside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivli.
“When leopards are found outside the forest in a high-population density area, we think they have strayed. But it’s their home as much as it is ours,” said Athreya, also research associate of Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore.
Stating that leopards are similar to species such as the bull, hyena, nilgai (largest Asian antelope) which share spaces with humans, Athreya added: “Leopards are adaptable and therefore can survive among humans unlike tigers. Human beings have drawn maps of protected area, but leopards don’t understand our boundaries.”
The study suggests that policymakers need to rethink India’s leopard management strategies, and that translocating them is not a solution since it could lead to conflict.
Five leopards -- two males and three females -- which were seen as “problem animals" and captured from human-dominated areas despite no predatory attack on people were radio-collared for the study.
While two were translocated and released more than 50kms away, the other three were released near the captured location. The leopards’ behaviour was monitored for a year. It was seen that they avoided direct contact with people.
The team found that the two translocated animals moved away 89km and 45km respectively from the release site and occupied bigger home ranges (42km and 65km respectively). The other three lived in areas with the highest human densities, but occupied smallest home ranges (8-15 sqkm) ever recorded for leopards anywhere.
“Instead of being reactive, we need to take proactive measures such as creating awareness and spelling out dos and don’ts,” said Athreya. “Leopards know how to stay away from us, and so we need to know how to keep them away as well.”