Studies done by a team of wildlife conservationists and NGO activists reveals that leopards are generally very scared of humans and do avoid people. The study was carried out with night vision cameras, at ten different locations in Shimla.
The wildlife wing of Himachal Pradesh Forest Department (HPFD) has taken-up a unique research project in collaboration with a Mumbai-based NGO,Wildlife Conservation Society (India programme) on human-Leopard conflict. The project revealed interesting findings about presence of leopards in Shimla’s peripheral forests but advised citizens against any panicked reaction on sighting of the animal in their vicinity.
“In the night if you are walking alone, even playing music on the mobile phone would keep the leopards away. Leopards are extremely adaptable. They are found living on the edges of a metropolitans like Mumbai—where density of population is higher than Shimla,” reads one of the findings.
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The State’s forest minister Thakur Singh Bharmauri said that the project is unique in its form. The wildlife department proposes to launch a massive awareness programme in the schools and other citizen forums to remove an impression about leopards being dangerous creatures and that they can’t co-exist with human population.
The state wide survey of the leopard conflict areas were conducted to understand animal behavior better. Studies on other wild carnivores in and around Shimla,have thrown up interesting facts. There were 10 cameras installed in the town and areas where the citizens reported movement of the leopards.
“Ten cuddeback camera traps were set up at chosen locations. These are automatic cameras that were triggered by thermal motion. A kaleidoscopic array of photos emerged-18 images of leopards, 2 images of leopard cats and one of jackal in and around Shimla, ” said Tarun Shridhar, additional Chief Secretary (Forest and wildlife), releasing the findings.
All the leopard images were taken between 10 pm and 7 am. Leopards operate nocturnally when they reside alongside human habitations.
Shridhar said, “ People do not want to believe that the leopards prowl in Shimla, even though Shimla and its surroundings are rich in forests. Some of the learnings from the study are that leopards have a large domestic range from 8-15 sq. kms. Medium sized animals such as dogs, goats and sheep falling common prey to them.
A small number survey of garbage dumps and stray dogs was also done in the city. “Children must not be left alone during the dark. Dogs need to be kept inside their kennel. Once the leopard realizes the dog is well protected, its visitation to the specific area decreases. Garbage is a serious issue and attracts feral dogs which in turn also attract leopards. Garbage dumps need to be cleaned/treated,” said Shridhar.
Shridhar added, “Chasing the animal or throwing anything at it causes it to attack in retaliation, as a self defense reaction. It is also important that people do not put up snares or attempt to shoot these animals-an injured leopard is a dangerous one. Such activities need to be discouraged.”