“In India, the tiger faces a crisis of extinction, and the elephant faces a crisis of attrition. But with the leopard, its a crisis of adaptation and we must deal with it that way” – Mr. Jairam Ramesh, Union Environment & Forests Minister.
“The decision to capture the animal should be the last option. If the captured leopard is to be released, it should be in the immediate vicinity of capture, that is, within the animal’s home range” – Union Ministry of Environment and Forest guidelines.
(Source: The Hindu, Chennai Edition, 20.04.2011)
When I was in Coimbatore, there were frequent news reporting of wild elephants roaming from forests to residential areas/ fields and eating/ destroying crops and even huts (mainly in search of food). This issue, of Leopards getting sighted increasingly in human locales in Maharashtra is a different one, but it raises the same question – Can’t humans coexist with their wild counterparts? Are they encroaching our territory or are we encroaching theirs?
When I visited the H A Gass Forest Museum, there was a poster which said that the conservation parks should not be totally closed because ecological and sociological (economic?) pressures would sooner or latter destroy the species it was intended to protect. So, a reserve should be open and interact with its region, with local people being its guardians.
This point has been proved earlier, when certain Tiger conservation parks resulted in decrease of population of Tigers in them, after the formation of such parks!
So, coming back to the leopard story, if a leopard has been captured in the vicinity of a residential area, it should be released back (a few kilometers) around that area! Thats mainly because leopards have a good homing/territorial instinct and more often than not, locate their territory and come back – Which results in violent encounters with other leopards that have inhibited that area, and also with humans around there. So, these guidelines have been appreciated by the press, as Maharashtra in particular, has followed them to yield successful results.
While we are on the topic of leopards, its good to know certain facts about them (Source: Wikipedia article)
- Leopards are highly adaptable animals – they are found in both cold regions and warmer regions. But most of the population lies in Africa and Asia.
- Leopards can climb trees very easily. They in fact kill their prey, and carry them to the top of tree branches in order to protect them from other carnivores/ scavengers.
- Leopards have very strong skull and backbones which enable them to carry prey weighing even thrice their weight (like a small giraffe) over a tree.
- Leopards are solitary/territorial animals, and hunt alone. Their biggest strength is their tree climbing abilities, speed and camouflage to the surroundings which enable them to suddenly attack its prey unexpectedly.
- Leopards can eat bigger prey – like small giraffe, deer etc, and also smaller prey like monkeys, rats, and even insects, if necessary. They can change their dietary pattern based on the surroundings.
- Leopards can swim and sometimes eat fishes/ crabs etc.
- The leopard has round spots evenly spread all over its skin. The one that is dark enough that their spots are not visible, is called black panther.
- Leopard can coexist with their close cousins – Cheetah, but not much with Jaguar. All the three panthera species look very similar.
- They do not attack humans, unless provoked. But they attack the livestock/dogs etc, that can be found in human vicinity.
If you have time, have a look at the following video where baby leopards play with a King Cobra! Quite gutsy cats, I must say