Spotted! Software Identifies Leopard Previously Seen On Camera Trap
July 21, 2012

Spotted! Software Identifies Leopard Previously Seen On Camera Trap

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Scientists identified a familiar leopard in a recent photo showing the big cat dragging the grisly remains of its prey across the ground in an Indian nature preserve.

Using a computer program that quickly analyzes and compares the spot patterns of leopards, researchers were able to positively identify the leopard as Bandipur Leopard #123 (BPL-123). The leopard image matched another one taken of the big cat in December 2004, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which had the earlier photo in its database.

"Photographs can help track the life histories of individual tigers – and as can be seen in this case, leopards," Ullas Karanth, director of WCS's India Programs, said in a statement. "In this context, even photographs taken by tourists can be valuable in providing additional information. As this particular 'catch' shows, BPL-123 is thriving, and his superb condition is perhaps an indicator of the health of his habitat too."

Vinay Kumar snapped a photo of the successful predator and then submitted it for analysis to Conservation India, a non-profit group aimed at raising conservation awareness and activism. Editors at CI contacted the WCS, which analyzed the striking photograph of a male leopard carrying a bison calf in its jaws, only to find out that a photo of the same leopard from 2004 was also on-file. While the WCS is primarily focused on monitoring tiger activity, their huge catalog of camera trap photos also includes hundreds of leopard images.

The new photograph shows the leopard carrying a guar, or bison, calf by using its strong jaws to haul the beefy prey into trees for safe-keeping. Scientists estimate that the dead calf weighed about 220 pounds, compared to the leopard, which weighs between 110 pounds and 150 pounds.

Leopards are carnivores capable of reaching 36 mph, and are notorious for their stealth as well as their ability to climb trees even when carrying a heavy kill. The leopard consumes virtually any animal that it can hunt down and catch.

While they are not known to be man-eaters, leopard attacks have been on the rise in India lately as three such incidents have been recorded in the past month. Many believe that human development has encroached on their natural habitat, forcing them into increased contact with humans.

To combat these deadly incidents, Indian officials have taken several measures, including night patrols and setting up emergency hotlines. They also recommend that citizens living near known leopard habitats erect protective fences and do not go out alone at night.

While the big cats are not currently under any risk of extinction, environmentalist groups and public health officials alike warn about the destruction of their natural habitat.

Earlier, animals had their space and humans had their areas,” India Forest Service official G. T. Chowhan told India Express.

“Now, we have residential areas just next to boundary of forests. Animals are restricted in their movements due to encroachment by humans. Such close proximity leads to tension and conflict. We should try to maintain balance and respect these creatures but keep ourselves prepared for any contingency.”