Leopard numbers in India up 60% in 4 years but threats remain, South Asia News & Top Stories

green and white leafed plantsIndia has registered some good news on the big cat conservation front, with the latest government census finding a minimum of 12,852 leopards across different parts of the country.

The government has maintained a 60 per cent increase in the leopard population over four years since 2014, when the census counted 7,910 leopards.

But habitat loss and increasing animal-human conflict remain a key challenge and a threat to the species, said conservationists.

The recently released Status Of Leopard In India, 2018 said the 12,852 leopards were found in 21 states.

The actual count is expected to be higher because many states like Jammu and Kashmir and many parts of the north-east were not part of the count.

This means India remains the largest home for the leopard outside of Africa at a time when leopards are endangered in some other parts of the world.

A key reason for stabilising leopard numbers is the crackdown on poaching, said Dr Yadvendradev Jhala, one of the authors of the report and a senior scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India, an autonomous institution under the Environment Ministry.

“It’s due to control of poaching. It just shows by the rate at which leopards are increasing” he said.

Last year saw 494 leopard deaths, including 120 by poaching, said the Wildlife Protection Society of India. This is an increase from the 455 deaths in 2019, but a drop from the 148 deaths due to poaching that year.

Dr Jhala also noted that conservation efforts are facing challenges from habitat loss and increased animal-human conflict.

Leopards, unlike other carnivores, are known to be more adaptable and able to survive in human-dominated areas.

The downside to this has been a rise in leopard attacks, which turn people against the cats.

A man in the southern state of Kerala tracked a leopard for a year and killed it in September last year after the animal killed his cow, his only source of income, local media reported.

A man-eating leopard that killed 12 people was killed in Maharashtra state last month.

“On the one hand, the population looks stable, but (human-leopard) conflict is going up, which in the long run is going to reflect on the leopard population,” said Dr Sanjay Gubbi, a senior scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation, a non-governmental wildlife conservation and research organisation.

“If leopards don’t get natural prey, they will turn to domestic prey like sheep, goats, calves, domestic dogs, poultry and others. From a wildlife conservation perspective, it is not a good thing as it will increase animosity of people against leopards.”

These instances have heightened the need for intervention, including educating farmers and others on keeping their livestock safe.

“Conflict has to be avoided. We need to train the community and the various government authorities on managing and reducing conflict, which involves better livestock management techniques, safely reacting to leopard presence and other aspects. Besides, our compensation provided (for loss of livestock due to leopard attacks) has to be timely, and on a par with market price,” said Dr Gubbi.

Dr Jhala said educating the people is very crucial, warning that without intervention, it would not be possible to sustain a stable leopard population.

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