A total of 173 leopards died in Maharashtra between January and November this year, an increase of over 57 per cent from 2019, when 110 big cat deaths were reported. The highest number of deaths was recorded in Nashik at 70, followed by 26 each in Pune and Kolhapur.
As per the data from the forest department, of the 173 leopard deaths till November, 85 were natural deaths, 64 accident-related, 17 cases of poaching while seven leopards died because of electrocution.
Leopard deaths due to road and train accidents have doubled from last year. In 2019, 17 animals died in road and train accidents while the count is 34 so far this year. Similarly, 25 died due to drowning this year, while the number was 10 last year.
The report also found a three-fold increase in loss of human life due to leopard attacks. While eight people died in man-animal conflict in 2019, this year the number has gone up to 23 so far. A total of 37 leopards were rescued this year. In the view of the increase in conflict leading to leopard deaths and loss of human lives, the state wildlife board had last month decided to set up a committee to access the damage in most vulnerable spots. “A study group will be formed under the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) (wildlife), to address the issue holistically,” said Sunil Limaye, additional principal conservator of forests (wildlife).
The total count of leopards across India was around 12,000 to 14,000, according to the 2016 census. As per the Phase IV tiger estimation conducted in 2020, 669 leopards have been recorded in Maharashtra. However, all the areas were not considered in the census exercise.
The state forest department is planning to conduct a population estimation exercise of leopards over the next two years.
Listed as “vulnerable” – just short of endangered – by a Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, leopard (Panthera pardus) is classified as needing the highest protection under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Leopards are India’s most widespread and adaptable big cats and a keystone species. Their presence indicates the well-being of wild areas, forests and water sources, which sustains wildlife, said an expert. Leopards also thrive in urban landscapes in sugarcane fields and other agricultural fields having prey like wild boars, dogs and cattle.
Currently, zilla parishads of Pune, Nashik, Aurangabad, Dhule and Amravati have been asked to construct parapet walls and nets to reduce the number of wild animals falling into wells. Rapid response teams have also been formed in a few areas. The state forest department has also written to the public works department to take precautionary measures and follow the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Road and Transport and the Wildlife Institute of India.
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