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.
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.
- Book Chapter2018Expanding nature conservation: considering wide landscapes and deep histories.Pages 249-267 in G. Cederlöf and M. Rangarajan (editors), 'At Nature's Edge: The Global Present and Long-Term History,' Oxford University Press, New Delhi. 331 pp.
- Journal Article2017Conflict to coexistence: Human – leopard interactions in a plantation landscape in Anamalai Hills, IndiaConservation and Society 15(4): 474-482.Download
PDF, 1.18 MB
When leopards are found in human-dominated landscapes, conflicts may arise due to attacks on people or livestock loss or when people retaliate following real and perceived threats. In the plantation landscape of the Valparai plateau, we studied incidents of injury and loss of life of people and livestock over time (15 – 25 y) and carried out questionnaire surveys in 29 plantation colonies and eight tribal villages to study correlates of livestock depredation, people's perception of leopards, and preferred management options for human – leopard interactions. Leopards were implicated in an average of 1.3 (± 0.4 SE) incidents/year (1990 – 2014) involving humans and 3.6 (± 0.8 SE) incidents/year (1999 – 2014) involving livestock, with no statistically significant increasing trend over time. Most incidents of injury or loss of life involved young children or unattended livestock, and occurred between afternoon and night. At the colony level, livestock depredation was positively related to the number of livestock, but decreased with the distance from protected area and number of residents. Half the respondents reported seeing a leopard in a neutral situation, under conditions that resulted in no harm. All tribal and 52% of estate respondents had neutral perceptions of leopards and most (81.9%, n = 161 respondents) indicated changing their own behaviour as a preferred option to manage negative interactions with leopards, rather than capture or removal of leopards. Perception was unrelated to livestock depredation, but tended to be more negative when human attacks had occurred in a colony. A combination of measures including safety precautions for adults and children at night, better livestock herding and cattle-sheds, and building on people's neutral perception and tolerance can mitigate negative interactions and support continued human – leopard coexistence.
- Popular Article2015Leopard landscapes: coexisting with carnivores in countryside and cityEconomic and Political Weekly, Web Exclusive, 3 January 2015
Web Exclusive, available here:
- Journal Article2015Prey abundance and leopard diet in a plantation and rainforest landscape, Anamalai Hills, Western GhatsCurrent 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.
- Poster2014சிறுத்தையை அறிந்துகொள்வோம்Poster produced in collaboration with Wildlife Conservation Society.Download
PDF, 2.28 MB
சிறுத்தை-மனிதன் எதிர்கொள்ளலைப் பற்றிய விளக்கச் சுவரிதழ்.
- Journal Article2014Assessing leopard occurrence in the plantation landscape of Valparai, Anamalai HillsCurrent Science 107: 1381-1385.Download
PDF, 6.97 MB
Available from this link: http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/107/09/1381.pdf
- Book Chapter2014Restoring 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.
- Poster2014Living with Leopards-Educational PosterPoster produced in collaboration with Anamalai Tiger Conservation Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society and Mumbaikars for SGNPDownload
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 Article2014Our backyard wildlife: Challenges in coexisting with uneasy neighbours. [Guest Editorial]Current Science 106: 1463-1464.
Available here: http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/106/11/1463.pdf
- Popular Article2014தலை 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 Siruthai– Iyarkayin Vaasalil ArticleSeries No.8 (On watching leopard in the forest). The Hindu Tamil News Daily. 26th August 2014.