Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar on Monday announced that a “60 per cent increase has been recorded in the population count of leopards in India from 2014 estimates’’.
The 2014 estimates placed the population of leopards at nearly 8,000 which has increased to 12,852.
Releasing the ‘Status of leopards in India, 2018’ report, the minister said, “There were 8,000 leopards in 2014. Increase in the population of tigers, Asiatic lions and now leopards shows how India is protecting its environment, ecology and biodiversity.”
The largest number of leopards have been estimated in Madhya Pradesh (3,421) followed by Karnataka (1,783) and then Maharashtra (1,690).
The report finds that in region wise distribution, Central India and Eastern Ghats have the highest number of leopards at 8,071. In the Western Ghats region, there are 3,387 leopards while there are 1,253 leopards in Shivalik and Gangetic Plains. There are 141 leopards in the Northeast hills.
The study was conducted through capturing 5,240 leopards on camera apart from satellite imaging and field work 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 the presence of the leopard is fairly ubiquitous across the country, the study has been conducted only in tiger- populated forests areas under Project Tiger, and leopard populations in other agricultural, non-forested areas like tea and coffee plantations, and in most parts of the North East have not been conducted. The leopard census has been carried out in the Shivalik Hills and Gangetic plains, Central India and Eastern Ghats, Western Ghats and North eastern Hills and Brahmaputra flood plains.
“In the Indian subcontinent poaching, habitat loss, depletion of natural prey and conflict are major threats to leopard populations,’’ says the report.
“Historically India had large numbers of leopards, in the tens of thousands. Fragmentation of forests as well as the quality of forests that exist is a cause for concern as this leads to increased human-leopard conflict. Leopards are not like tigers, who don’t like humans and therefore don’t venture out. Leopards are far more adaptable and because of this, when loss of habitat takes place, they move closer to human settlements and that’s when the conflict takes place. Development can’t stop, but we need to look closer at greener technologies and stop the fragmentation of forest land to protect the species,’’ says co-author of the report, Qamar Qureshi from WII.
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