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Wild boars, a species which the Goa government wants classified as 'vermin', are a major prey for leopards in Goa's wild as well as habitation fringe areas, a study conducted by the Goa Forest department and the Goa University's Zoology department has revealed. The study conducted in both protected forest areas as well as human dominated areas has also revealed that domesticated animals do not constitute a major part of leopards' diet, despite the increasing trend of leopards straying into inhabited areas over the last few years.
"It can be interpreted from our data that although leopards were reported close to human habitations throughout the year, their dependence on domestic animals was low," said the study by Bipin S. Phal Desai, Avelyno D'Costa, M.K. Praveen Kumar and S.K. Shyama.
"This study also indicates that the wild species that the leopards preyed upon in protected areas were also present in forested areas close to human habitations. This could be the reason for the presence of leopards in human-dominated areas with a low dependence on domestic animals," it added.
"Scat analysis of 55 scats collected from these areas revealed that wild boar constituted a major proportion of the prey biomass (29 per cent), followed by chital (25 per cent), Indian Crested porcupine (15 per cent), barking deer (13 per cent), grey langur (5.6 per cent), Bonnet macaque (5.4 per cent), sambar (4.1 per cent), and Indian hare (3.1 per cent)," the study said.
The diet profile analysis suggests that leopards preferred small-sized prey, which accounted for 77 per cent of its diet, while medium-sized prey and large-sized prey accounted for 33 per cent and 1.1 per cent only.
"Domestic animals (dog, pig, cat and goat) constituted only a minor portion (33 per cent) of the leopard's diet. The dog was the most preyed-upon domestic animal (17 per cent) followed by pig (11 per cent), goat (2.7 per cent), and cat (2 per cent). Of the nine wild prey species observed from scat analysis, six were identified in scats collected from human-dominated areas," the study added.
It also said most of the incidents of human-animal conflict involving leopards occurred during the species' pre-breeding season which stretched through August to October, which triggers movement of the wild cats into normally uncharted territories.
"This pattern correlates with the breeding pattern of leopards when wandering males and sub-adult cubs (which have just left their mothers to fend for themselves) come in conflict with humans," the study added.
"The conflict during January and February could be mainly due to the movement of females in the post-birth phase. These leopards, which continuously change their location for the safety of the young cubs, come in contact with humans employed in cashew plantations and other agricultural activities," it said.
Rapid deforestation and urbanization have led to increasing human-wild animal conflict throughout the state.
Recently, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant told the state Assembly that the Goa government was in the process of planting fruit bearing trees in forest areas and other land available for plantations to prevent wild animals from entering human habitation.
Some years ago peacocks featured on the state Agriculture Ministry's wish-list of vermin species along with monkeys and bisons, with farmers claiming the species were damaging crops extensively. While peacock is the national bird, the bison is the state animal.
Keywords: Wild Boar, prey, Leopard, Goa, wildlife, urbanization
The leopard is the reigning rock star of the wildlife world. It’s a species that is obscure and largely overshadowed by the tiger, especially in India, scientist, conservationist, and author Sanjay Gubbi writes in “Leopard Diaries”. However, it is also a species that is loved by some and hated by many others. Nearly buried in this cacophony of conflict lies the “remarkable story” of this “lonely, mysterious creature” that he explores.
“Wildlife science hardly reaches anyone except those who are into serious academics. Furthermore, the common man or decision-makers do not understand the language jargon and the complicated statistical procedures of scientific papers. In addition, these papers are mostly behind the iron wall of paid subscriptions. In such a scenario we must reach and popularise wildlife conservation through popular media such as books and articles.
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“There is quite a bit of popular literature on tigers but very little on leopards despite the species losing its habitat on a fast track. So the best way to bring both science and applied conservation is possible through a book” that is sub-titled “The Rosette in India” and has been published by Westland, Gubbi told IANS in an interview.
To this end, the book has in-depth information about understanding this spotted cats’ population, its distribution, and human-leopard conflict issues based on his research work in Karnataka – and also has information based on literature reviews about leopards from across its distributional range.
“But to give a bigger picture, to draw the attention and interest beyond leopard ecology I had to fish anecdotes from my experiences about the enchanting habitat it lives in, the interesting people within that landscape, the different species leopards co-exist with, and other curious aspects,” Gubbi, who holds a doctorate in leopard ecology and conservation, explained.
He is the winner of the Whitley Award (popularly known as the Green Oscars) in 2017 and is also the recipient of the first Co-existence Award 2019 by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Carl Zeiss Conservation Award, among others.
Vis-a-vis the tiger, are the steps being taken for the conservation of leopards adequate?
“It certainly does not match anywhere close to what the tigers draw. Of course, the tiger numbers are much much lower than leopards (2,967/12,852), their habitat requirements are much larger, hence it is fair that it gets that attention. But we also need to focus on species like the leopard as they are key wildlife beyond forest habitats such as the rocky outcrops, scrub forests. They also define the public opinion towards wildlife conservation as they are highly conflict-prone,” Gubbi pointed out.
What are the lacunae and how can these be addressed?
“We need to focus a lot on protecting leopard habitats and their prey, especially outside the protected area network. Our research showed that prey poaching is seven times higher in non-protected areas and (where) the populations of large prey like chital, sambar, barking deer is 90 percent lower.
“This calls for urgent attention if we are going to conserve leopards at the landscape level. Similarly, we are losing their habitats at unprecedented levels. Both these factors have led to high levels of human-leopard conflict the cost of which is borne by poor rural communities. Very importantly we need to bring down conflict to tolerable limits. The future of wildlife conservation in India hinges on this,” Gubbi maintained.
Thus, his research goal was to collect the best possible data on leopard ecology and to apply the data to leopard conservation and he decided to do so even amidst the political difficulties of working on large carnivores functioning in a landscape where hegemony was already established. Leopards are territorial and so are those studying them.
“My interest was not to master leopards but to slowly interpret their life to help contribute to their conservation, especially through conflict mitigation strategies. I have strongly felt that research should be more than a quest for facts. I don’t want to merely leave records of the animals going extinct for our children to read. I am more interested in our children actually being able to see these animals,” Gubbi writes in the book.
As George Schaller, an American large mammal biologist says, “A researcher today also has a moral responsibility to help the species endure’, we can “endlessly describe a species, but we need to help the species persist. Information is key but so is emotion,” Gubbi writes. “The journey with the leopard was not intended to produce a guide to lead others and state how it is in the leopard world.
“This is not a manual on how to conserve leopards but a log of my journeys and observations. The book Leopard Diaries records my experiences with the people I met, and the results of our study on this wonderful cat. We also have to recognize that there are things we cannot understand about leopards, or for that matter about any wild species.
“Leopards possess qualities and abilities well beyond the means of science to decipher. We have interpreted a little about this species. But nature knows a lot more. And we will never know many secrets of this spotted cat. Science has only been nibbling at the furtive biological facts of many wildlife species, and most of it remains to be understood. Our work added just another brick to this large world of ecology and conservation,” Gubbi writes.
He concludes the book Leopard Diaries with the fervent hope that in the 22nd century “we find as many leopards roaming this country as we do today. However, this needs involvement and fuelling conservation not merely through science but through on-ground efforts by ecologists, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers, filmmakers, media personnel, and everyone keenly interested in saving nature. Science is like the tangier delights of food, adding variety and flavor to the diet, while conservation is like cod liver oil, essential for sustenance and building strength”.
“Much like poetry, in conservation what matters is saying what we see, and the need of the hour is that we speak up about the threats these graceful cats face. Many questions related to leopards remain unanswered to this day. We know only a thing or two about these graceful cats. If our work and this book contribute even a nickel’s worth to help conserve this felid species, my team and I would be delighted.” (IANS/SP)
In a seemingly bizarre diktat, the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department officials have asked farmers in Bijnor and adjoining districts to beat drums, wear helmets and neck pads and take a dog along, while visiting the fields. This is expected to apparently save them from leopard attacks.
With barely a fortnight left before the sugarcane harvest season begins, farmers will be working in their fields in large numbers which makes them vulnerable to leopard and tiger attacks.
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Six lives were lost last year, while mauling incidents without fatality were reported recently.
Forest authorities have intensified their awareness programmes to minimize the man-animal conflict in the region which is in the vicinity of the Amangarh Tiger Reserve. Posters have been put up outside ration shops in rural areas, informing the farmers of ‘preventive’ measures.
Besides, several forest teams are also visiting villages and holding meetings with the farmers to make them aware of the safety measures.
“The sugarcane harvesting season is set to kick in. There are many big cats around the sugarcane fields as they provide perfect sanctuary to them. To mitigate the man-animal conflict, we are making the farmers aware that they should go to the fields wearing helmets and neck pads. They should make a noise by beating drums or playing loud music on mobile or radio while working in the fields,” Bijnor Divisional Forest officer M. Semmaran said.
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“In addition, they should venture out in groups and also take dogs with them. If farmers spot any big cat in their respective areas, they should inform forest officers whose contact numbers are written on the posters being pasted on the walls in rural areas. We have formed a special task force to take quick action on the tip-off about big cat sightings.”
Leopard attacks have been increasingly common in the district and last year, a leopard had killed six persons. (IANS)