Leopard (Panthera Pardus) is one of the big cat usually encountered in croplands, tea gardens and densely human inhabited area of Assam. As a carnivore and nocturnal predator it has a high capability of ambush predation. Due to this adaptation they remain unnoticed in highly dense human habitation. As a wildlife vet I have encountered several cases of human leopard conflict. All cases without any miss were retaliatory action of leopard due to human interference. To avoid this situation most important will be to understand leopards by peoples of area where this occur frequently. Now the question arises, why leopards inhabit such an area with high human density? Reasons may be too many but most important are the following:
Prey availability: High human habitation results in production of lots of waste. On the other hand, it gives rise to stray dogs, scavenging pig’s and large to small rodent population. Most time it has even seen that dogs become frequently predated. Easy food provides leopard and their cubs easy and secure life.
Lack of leopard proof sheds for domestic animals: Villagers due to unawareness and lack of economical support cannot build leopard proof sheds for their domestic animals like cattle, goat and swine and poultries. This results in easy access for leopards to prey on them.
Large Tea gardens and Croplands: Large tea gardens and Croplands remains undisturbed during two subsequent picking and harvesting which gives leopard and its cubs a perfect habitat to remain there unnoticed and undisturbed for a long time. When they remain undisturbed for such a long time they mark the area as their territory. Therefore, sudden picking and harvesting brings human in direct confrontation with leopards. As a animal of predation it has two way in front of the beast that it will flee or fight. A person who knows big cats can easily understand what will happen next. If the area doesn’t have any way for it to escape it will fight. Therefore, always pave a way for its escape.
Habitat destruction and fragmentation: This cause is same for all wildlife.
Presence of other primary predator in protected areas: Presence of Tigers in a protected area as primary predator will surely push the territory of leopards towards fringe where human habitation exists.
Leopards, as one of the low limelight wild species of the big cats, has always been in the losing side of human leopard conflict. This majestic species becomes victim of human wrath when a situation arises.
The most common consequences are the following:
Direct mutilation resulting death: Direct mutilation is always a result of injuries in human side. Out of anger and rage people kill the leopard who has done the inexcusable sin according to us.
Trapping of the animal: Resulting in translocation and if mother is trapped the cubs become orphaned.
Change of territory resulting due arbitrary release: Arbitrary release causes movement of leopard from released site to seek its original territory. It has been reported that it can move upto 100 Km. This causes inter species and intra species conflicts during course of movement and may give rise to more serious conflict situation in its way. Infighting when, if released in the area which has a preexisting dominant leopard.
Hand picking: Hand picking of cubs is also of a serious consequence, when people suddenly enter a new area of tea gardens and Croplands for picking or harvesting and founds leopard cubs along. They pick up the cubs out of affection and make an idea that these are abandoned. But fact is different they were not abandoned, they’re left in a safe place by mother before she went for hunting. This hand picking is very detrimental for future of the cubs.
A leopard maintains a low profile and always keeps away from direct confrontation with intellectual animal. Highly adaptable with precise hunting rate and without any choice in between preys it is a super cat compared to other big cats. It’s both terrestrial and arboreal habitat also provides a safe territory. This all quality demands respect. As above I have defined leopard from field experience question arises that how can we avoid conflict with this animal. Wherever in an area there is pre-existing history of human leopard conflict, people must not become reluctant that it will never occur again. In such cases precautions should be taken during visits to such area which is less frequently used. Who knows whose territory is that? If news of leopard sighting is from any area, people in mob should not visit that area because it’s not a circus show or zoo, a mighty free ranging animal armoured with sharp and lethal teeth and claws is venturing his/her territory, please leave him/her along. Proper waste disposal system should be developed to reduce population of scavenging and stray animals. For domestic animals a proper robust leopard proof shed should be built with locally low cost available building materials. Leopards most adaptable and wisest of its instinct may be ambushing nearby to find a prey, so proper sanitary system required at a leopard existing zone. Leopards doesn’t fall from heaven they have existed since human evolution, we human as a intellectual of all can help them to co- exist without problem.
(Samshul Ali is a Veterinary Surgeon with Wildlife Trust of India)