Living with leopards

Carnivore, conflicts, and conservation in the Anamalai hills

When people and large carnivores like leopards share a landscape, can we foster their coexistence? To do so we need to understand conflict incidence in relation to the needs of people and leopards. Measures can then be chosen to avoid negative interactions, while building awareness on how to live alongside leopards.

  • Camera trap Image: At a cattle kill

  • Leopard in town

  • Camera Trap: Leopard in a coffee estate

The adaptable cat

Unlike other big cats in India, the leopard adapts well to landscape changes. The ability of the cats to occur in a wide range of habitats both within and outside wildlife protected areas bodes well for their persistence, but it comes with a price. Although leopards tend to shy away from people, they may enter human settlements or occasionally attack people or livestock causing injuries and deaths, leading to retaliatory measures.

To avoid negative interactions between people and leopards in human-use landscapes requires a good understanding of the ecology and behaviour of leopards. We studied leopards in a landscape of tea and coffee plantations with embedded rainforest fragments in the Anamalai hills. In the fragmented landscape and in the surrounding Anamalai Tiger Reserve, we set out to document leopard occurrence, the distribution and relative abundance of various prey species, and the occurrence of incidents of conflicts with people.

Landscapes with leopards

Our study showed that leopards in the landscape subsisted on four main wild prey species: Indian muntjac, Indian spotted chevrotain, sambar, and Indian porcupine. These animals contributed 95.1% of prey biomass consumed by leopards, with the rest being minor wild prey species. Although livestock are occasionally killed, we found no livestock remains in identified scats, and the leopards are not dependent on domestic animals to meet their dietary needs.

The landscape also supported a good wild prey base. The prey species persisted in plantations and forests but varied in relative abundance by land-use type, with forest fragments supporting higher abundances of many species. As leopards were not dependent on domestic livestock and appeared to have both suitable habitats and prey species. If the forest fragments are protected, the landscape has a high potential for leopard conservation and coexistence with people. To enable coexistence, it is also essential to minimise or avoid negative interactions and conflicts between leopards and people sharing the landscape.

Building human - leopard coexistence

Conflicts involving leopards were infrequent but serious. During a 3-year period (2008 – 2010), 32 head of livestock (cow, buffalo, and goat) were lost to carnivore depredation. Over the same period, there were eight attacks on people, resulting in three fatalities (all children). Attitudes of people towards leopards were not affected by incidence of livestock depredation, but related instead to occurrence of attacks on people in the colony. Our analysis showed that conflict incidents leopard depredation was higher in colonies with more livestock, but interactively increased with distance from protected area, but decreased with number of people living in the area.

A camera-trapping survey also showed that leopard occurrence was widespread in the fragmented landscape including the vicinity of urban areas. The presence of leopards did not appear to relate directly to conflict incidence and other factors appear to be involved, which requires closer study.

Overall, to minimise conflicts, we suggest adoption of a combination of measures including better herding, improved livestock corrals, safety precautions for adults and children at night in estates, and proper waste management, besides protection of habitat remnants that sustain wild prey populations. These will help safeguard human life and reduce economic losses, thereby mitigating conflict and promoting human – leopard coexistence in such landscapes.

People

Partners

  • Vidya Athreya

Funding

  • IUCN Netherlands-Both Ends Ecosystem Alliance Programme
  • M. M. Muthiah Research Foundation, Chennai
  • NC-IUCN Tropical Rainforest Programme
  • Rufford Small Grants Foundation, UK

Publications

  • Journal Article
    2015
    Prey abundance and leopard diet in a plantation and rainforest landscape, Anamalai Hills, Western Ghats
    Current Science 109: 323-330.
    Download

    PDF, 3.54 MB

    Leopards use a wide range of habitats from natural forests to plantations in human-dominated landscapes. Within interface areas, understanding leopard ecology and diet can help in conservation management and conflict avoidance. In a fragmented rainforest and plantation landscape in southern India, we examined diet of large carnivores (with a focus on leopards) using scat analysis with DNA-based identification of predator species, and estimated relative abundance of prey species in different land uses through transect surveys. Large carnivores predominantly consumed wild prey species (98.1%) and domestic prey species contributed <2% to overall prey biomass. For leopards, four wild prey species (Indian muntjac, Indian spotted chevrotain, sambar and Indian porcupine) contributed 95.1% of prey biomass, with the rest being minor wild prey species (no livestock in identified scats). Wild prey species occurred across the landscape but varied in relative abundance by land-use type, with forest fragments supporting higher abundance of many species relative to tea and coffee plantations. As large carnivores mainly depend on wild prey and rainforest fragments act as refuges for these mammals within the tea and coffee plantations, it is important to continue to retain or restore these forest fragments.

    PDF: http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/109/02/0323.pdf

  • Popular Article
    2015
    Leopard landscapes: coexisting with carnivores in countryside and city
    Economic and Political Weekly, Web Exclusive, 3 January 2015
  • Poster
    2014
    சிறுத்தையும் நாமும்
    Poster produced in collaboration with Anamalai Tiger Conservation Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society and Mumbaikars for SGNP
    Download

    PDF, 9.95 MB

    சிறுத்தை-மனிதன் எதிர்கொள்ளலைப் பற்றிய விளக்கச் சுவரிதழ்

  • Poster
    2014
    சிறுத்தையை அறிந்துகொள்வோம் 
    Poster produced in collaboration with Wildlife Conservation Society.
    Download

    PDF, 2.28 MB

    சிறுத்தை-மனிதன் எதிர்கொள்ளலைப் பற்றிய விளக்கச் சுவரிதழ்.

  • Journal Article
    2014
    Assessing leopard occurrence in the plantation landscape of Valparai, Anamalai Hills
    Current Science 107: 1381-1385.
    Download

    PDF, 6.97 MB

  • Popular Article
    2014
    தலை தெறிக்க ஓடிய சிறுத்தை! (On watching leopard in the forest)
    தி இந்து நாளிதழ். The Hindu Tamil News Daily. 26th August 2014.

    Jeganathan, P. (2014). தலை தெறிக்க ஓடிய சிறுத்தை! -தி இந்து நாளிதழ் உயிர்மூச்சு இணைப்பில், ‘இயற்கையின்வாசலில்’தொடர்எண் – 8. 26th August 2014. Thalaitherikka Odiyathu SiruthaiIyarkayin Vaasalil ArticleSeries No.8 (On watching leopard in the forest). The Hindu Tamil News Daily. 26th August 2014. 

    (The Hindu link here and personal blog link here).

  • Poster
    2014
    Living with Leopards-Educational Poster
    Poster produced in collaboration with Anamalai Tiger Conservation Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society and Mumbaikars for SGNP
    Download

    PDF, 10.1 MB

    Educational poster for people residing in landscapes with leopards highlighting measures one can take and what one must avoid in order to minimize conflict, besides explaining basic leopard behavior and causes of conflicts.

  • Journal Article
    2014
    Our backyard wildlife: Challenges in coexisting with uneasy neighbours. [Guest Editorial]
    Mewa Singh, M Ananda Kumar
    Current Science 106: 1463-1464.
  • Book Chapter
    2014
    Restoring nature: wildlife conservation in landscapes fragmented by plantation crops in India.
    Pages 178-214. In Nature Without Borders (Eds. Mahesh Rangarajan, MD Madhusudan & Ghazala Shahabuddin), Orient Blackswan, New Delhi.
  • Report
    2011
    People and predators: Leopard diet and interactions with people in a tea plantation dominated landscape in the Anamalai Hills, Western Ghats.
    NCF Technical Report #18, Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore.
    Download

    PDF, 3.77 MB

    Leopards use a wide range of habitats from natural forests to human-dominated landscapes and conflicts sometimes arise from loss of livestock or attacks on people in interface areas. In a fragmented rainforest and plantation landscape in southern India, we examined diet of large carnivores (particularly leopards) using scat analysis with DNA-based identification of predator species, and relative abundance of prey species in different land-uses using transect surveys. Spatio-temporal patterns in conflict and attitudes of local people were analysed from conflict records with the Forest Department and questionnaire surveys in 28 plantation colonies and eight tribal settlements. Large carnivores predominantly (98.1%) consumed wild prey species and domestic prey species contributed <2% to overall prey biomass. Similarly, for leopards four wild prey species (Indian muntjac, Indian spotted chevrotain, sambar, and Indian porcupine) contributed 95.1% of prey biomass, with the rest being minor wild prey species (no livestock in identified scats). In the landscape, wild prey species persisted but varied in relative abundance by land-use type, with forest fragments supporting higher abundances of most species. ... In a 3-year period (2008 – 2010), 32 head of livestock (cow, buffalo, and goat) were reported by respondents as lost to carnivore depredation (economic loss averaging INR 9732 or ~USD 216 per incident). Over the same period, there were eight attacks on people, resulting in three fatalities (all children). Attitudes towards leopards were not affected by incidence of livestock depredation, but related instead to occurrence of attacks on people in the colony. Livestock depredation at a colony was significantly and positively related to livestock numbers, and interactively with distance from protected area (positive) and number of people (negative). To minimise conflicts, we suggest adoption of a combination of measures including better herding, improved livestock corrals, safety precautions for adults and children at night in estates, and proper waste management, besides protection of habitat remnants that sustain wild prey populations. These will help safeguard human life and reduce economic losses, thereby mitigating conflict and promoting human – leopard coexistence in such landscapes.

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