Leopard in a tea-cup: A study of leopard habitat-use and human-leopard interactions in north-eastern India.
|Leopard in a tea-cup: A study of leopard habitat-use and human-leopard interactions in north-eastern India.
|Year of Publication
|Kshettry A, Vaidyanathan S, Athreya V
There is increasing evidence of the importance of multi-use landscapes for the conservation of large carnivores. However, when carnivore ranges overlap with high density of humans, there are often serious conservation challenges. This is especially true in countries like India where loss of peoples' lives and property to large wildlife are not uncommon. The leopard (Panthera pardus) is a large felid that is widespread in India, often sharing landscapes with high human densities. In order to understand the ecology of leopards in a human use landscape and the nature of human-leopard interactions, we studied (i) the spatial and temporal distribution and the characteristics of leopard attacks on people, (ii) the spatial variability in the pattern of habitat use by the leopard, and (iii) the spatial relationship between attack locations and habitat use by leopards. The study site, located in northern West Bengal, India, is a densely populated mixed-use landscape of 630 km2, comprising of forests, tea plantations, agriculture fields, and human settlements. A total of 171 leopard attacks on humans were reported between January 2009 and March 2016, most of which occurred within the tea-gardens. None of the attacks was fatal. We found significant spatial clustering of locations of leopard attacks on humans. However, most of the attacks were restricted to certain tea estates and occurred mostly between January and May. Analysis of habitat use by leopards showed that the probability of use of areas with more ground vegetation cover was high while that of areas with high density of buildings was low. However, locations of leopard attacks on people did not coincide with areas that showed a higher probability of use by leopards. This indicates that an increased use of an area by leopards, by itself, does not necessarily imply an increase in attacks on people. The spatial and temporal clustering of attack locations allowed us to use this information to prioritize areas to focus mitigation activities in order reduce negative encounters between people and leopards in this landscape which has had a long history of conflict.