In an indication of the changes in the grassland ecology of Surendrangar territorial forest division, a sub-adult leopard was killed by Asiatic lions in a fight for dominance over territory in Chobari village of Chotila taluka early on Monday, forest officers said. The leopard casualty comes around three months after two nomad Asiatic lions had ventured into Chotila last year and have since been camping in the area.
“We got information that a leopard was lying dead in the revenue area of Chobari village on Monday morning. On closer inspection of the spot where the leopard carcass was lying, we observed pugmarks of Asiatic lions. We have radio-collared one of the two Asiatic lions of this area and signals from the tag indicated that the lions were present at the place where the leopard was found dead. This means that the lions killed the leopard,” Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF) of Surendranagar division, HM Makwana told The Indian Express.
The DCF said that injury marks caused by the lions’ canine teeth were also observed on the leopard’s body. “The male leopard was around a year old. There was no indication that he was with his mother. Around 500 metres away, lions had preyed on a buffalo calf. This could have drawn the leopard into the area, leading to the fight,” he added.
The officer said that that this is the first recorded incident of lions killing a leopard in Chotila range. “Leopards have established their territory in Surendranagar over the past few years and we estimate there are around seven to eight leopards in our division,” said the DCF.
Incidentally, two sub-adult male Asiatic lions had entered Chotila range on November 19 last year in search of new territory. Since then, they have been camping in the area which is a mosaic of protected and privately-owned grasslands and shrub lands, quite similar to Gir forest — the last abode of Asiatic lions. Gir forest and other protected areas are spread across Junagadh, Gir Somnath, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts of Saurashtra region of Gujarat. Chotila is around a 100 kilometre away from the known habitat of Asiatic lions, that have been categorised as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The DCF said that the two lions, so far, have preyed on 23 livestock heads and around 20 wild ungulates such as blue bulls and wild boars. The state Forest department has paid Rs 2.23 lakh compensation to livestock owners, while claims for compensation worth Rs 1.55 lakh are being processed. “With an aim to help them learn to live in harmony with lions, we arranged a tour of Sasan for around 50 people of various villages in Chotila and facilitated their interaction with maldharis (cattle herders) living in Gir forest around Sasan,” he added.
Generally, leopards avoid confrontation with carnivores that are above them in the food chain. However, lions do not bear well with the presence of leopards and the former usually prevail in such encounters, often ending in the deaths of leopards. Until a few months ago, leopards were the top predators in the Chotila ecosystem, but lions have been slowly establishing their territory and displacing resident leopards from that position, forest officers said.
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