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Depleting forest cover slowly pushing leopards closer to Delhi: Officials

Big cat spotted in Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary recently; leopard carcass found in Usmanpur in east delhi last week.

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | New Delhi |
Updated: February 26, 2015 3:53:48 am
Faridabad has seen vast areas of forest land making way for urbanisation the past decade. Faridabad has seen vast areas of forest land making way for urbanisation the past decade.

Massive depletion in forest cover in the bordering regions of Faridabad seems to have forced leopards to migrate into the forests of Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary. Wildlife officials confirmed that at least one male leopard is currently in the reserved area.

Officials said four chitals were killed in the wildlife sanctuary last week— the signs pointing to a leopard-kill. Officials also said pug marks and scat of an adult male leopard were found near the kill.

“The pattern of killing is very similar to that of a leopard-kill. The hind quarters of the deer has been eaten. This is consistent with how a leopard feeds. We have ordered an autopsy of the carcass to confirm the matter. But the pug marks we found point to a male leopard living in the area. Experts have estimated the animal to be around five years,” a forest department officer said.

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Faridabad has seen vast areas of forest land making way for urbanisation the past decade. According to records, forest cover depleted from 3,747 hectares in 2005 to 2,446.95 hectares in 2012 – at the rate of 65.27 per cent.

“Loss of prey and natural cover seems to be the prime reasons for the animal moving towards Delhi,” the officer said.

leopard-body

“It seems that the big cat came here some time in the past year and found good habitat and abundant prey. There have been reported sightings in the past year. This is excellent news,” he said.

The Delhi forest department has been reticent in admitting the presence of a large carnivore in its forests. After a leopard carcass was found in Usmanpur last week, officials had maintained that it was unlikely that the big cat resided in the area. The animal, which was killed by a snake bite, was said to have strayed into Delhi from adjoining areas in Uttar Pradesh.

But experts said leopards have adopted a number of strategies to thrive in areas with dense human presence. A study, titled  “Adaptable Neighbours: Movements patterns of GPS-collared leopards in human-dominated landscapes in India”— done jointly by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), international agencies and state forest departments — found that leopards rarely attacked humans and often went to great lengths to avoid human confrontations.

“Leopards are very adaptable animals. Humans may have modified a leopard’s habitat, but he has learned to live in these modified environments too. Now it is for us to understand this and figure out ways to adjust with them,” Vidya Athreya of WCS said.

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