Maharashtra at 1,690 has the third largest population of leopards in the country, according to the ‘Status of leopards in India, 2018’ report, released on Monday. Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of leopards – 3,421, followed by Karnataka – 1,783.
The Union environment ministry has said there has been an over 60 per cent increase in the population of leopards in India since 2014. There were at least 12,852 leopards in the country in 2018 compared to 7,910 leopards estimated in 2014.
However, forest officials and experts said that the number of leopards will be much higher in the state than the current estimation. The study has been conducted only in tiger-populated forests areas under Project Tiger, and leopard populations in other agricultural areas have not been considered.
Unlike tigers, leopards are widespread and adaptable big cats. Leopards also thrive in urban landscapes in sugarcane fields and other agricultural fields preying on wild boars, dogs and cattle, which were not part of the survey.
While leopards coexist well with tigers, they have a much wider distribution than tigers. “The current estimate is based on sampling that was carried out in tiger-bearing areas like Vidarbha, Shayadri reserves in the state. This means that a significant portion of leopard habitat such as the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Ahmednagar, Nashik, Beed, Solapur are not sampled in this exercise,” said Sunil Limaye, additional principal conservator of forests (wildlife).
The estimation exercise hasn’t considered other leopard occupied areas such as non-forested habitats (coffee and tea plantations), higher elevations in the Himalayas, arid landscapes and the majority of the northeastern landscape. “The population estimation should be considered as the minimum number of leopards in each of the landscapes,” the report cautions.
The study was conducted through capturing 5,240 leopards on camera apart from satellite imaging and fieldwork by teams of forest officers along with teams of the Wildlife Institute of India and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
But while the estimated number of leopards has increased, the report alerts that the leopard habitat area has been shrinking alarmingly over the past 100-125 years.
“While genetic data and population data suggest that leopard populations across is continuous, there is an increasing need for corridor connectivity, and improvement of habitat, to reduce interface with humans and thereby reducing the chance of conflict,” the report has concluded.
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