Leopard Sightings In India Residential Areas
March 28, 2013

Leopards Encroaching On Populated Areas In India

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Almost everyone has peeked out their back window to see a unique animal, whether it be a deer, cardinal, wild turkey, or even a coyote.

According to the World Conservation Society (WCS), homeowners in western India can expect to see something a little bigger when they fling open the curtains at night: leopards.

In a study that was published earlier this month in the open access journal PLoS One, Indian conservationists said large predators like leopards and hyenas were found ranging closer than ever to human populations and residences.

"Nowhere in the world have such large number of big predators been reported in such densely populated human landscape," lead author Vidya Athreya, from the WCS, told the Times of India.

Using camera traps, the conservationists found that leopards often roamed close to houses at night, yet have remained basically undetected by the public. The traps captured 81 photos of leopards over a 30-day period. From the photos, the researchers were able to identify six female leopards, five males and several cubs, indicating that these cats were not simply young strays that had separated from a group.

Despite the fact that they share some of the same habitat, leopard attacks on humans have been few and far between.

"Human attacks by leopards were rare despite a potentially volatile situation considering that the leopard has been involved in serious conflict, including human deaths in adjoining areas," said co-author Ullas Karanth. "The results of our work push the frontiers of our understanding of the adaptability of both humans and wildlife to each other's presence."

Although the study didn´t report human deaths, several leopard attacks have occurred in India over the past few years. In 2011, a leopard injured eleven people in the southern Indian village of Prakash Nagar before being tranquilized. Months later, another leopard mauled three villagers in the eastern village of Guwahati.

While these attacks have caused alarm among the population, Athreya told the Times of India that "leopards instinctively shun humans.”

Besides leopards, the researchers also captured pictures of a variety of animals, including the Indian fox, jackal, mongoose — and a few stray people.

"Our study documents for the first time that a whole guild of predators can persist in totally human dominated landscape in India," the authors concluded in the study. "This probably has a lot to do with India's laws which makes it illegal to kill any wildlife for sport or for consumption."

“There is a clear need to recognize that these potentially conflict causing species can, and will, colonize many areas and that their management cannot only be based on a hands-off policy,” they added. “That being said there is a clear need to ensure that management interventions do not make the situations any worse.”

Conservationists estimate the Indian leopard population at about 10,000. The BBC has suggested that poaching may have had a significant impact on the population. According to a 2012 World Wildlife Fund study, four leopards are killed every week for their hide and other parts, which are sold illegally.