Conflict with leopards on the rise in Karnataka
The recent instances of leopards entering human territory and creating panic among locals in different parts of the State underline an increase in human-animal conflict owing to urban sprawl and unchecked decimation of wildlife habitats.
Two leopards being spotted in Bengaluru (one at an apartment complex at Begur and another at Kengeri) and eventually trapped, a leopard sauntering into a medical college staff quarters in Chamarajanagar, and a big cat chasing its prey only to get trapped inside a toilet in Mangaluru — these are just some of the incidents reported in the past few days.
But experts concur that leopards always lived in these places before and it is the human intrusion into their territories that is the root of the problem. Leopards are being sighted more frequently as they are being forced to come out in search of prey, say experts.
Sanjay Gubbi, senior scientist, Nature Conservation Foundation, said the proliferation of CCTV cameras and social media has brought them into the spotlight more often. He listed development activities in leopard habitats such as quarrying, mining, proliferation of industries, and infrastructure projects as the key drivers destroying habitats and adding to conflict situations.
The medical college quarters in Chamarajanagar that was in the news recently when a leopard walked into the building was built on a buffer forest zone, which is a leopard habitat.
Mr. Gubbi and a team of other wildlife biologists conducted a study, according to which 357 leopards were in conflict situations in the State between 2009 and 2016 and were translocated. A majority — 79% — of these conflicts were reported from Mysuru, Udupi, Hassan, Tumakuru, Ramanagaram, Ballari, Koppal, and Mandya districts. Six years later, cases of conflict are being reported from these very areas with regularity.
In Mysuru, leopards have been spotted in industrial areas, captured, and translocated, while their presence on the outskirts of the city and in villages are well-documented. “We are constantly inundated with calls to capture a leopard because it was sighted somewhere in a village or killed a domestic animal. People panic when it is sighted even in Chamundi Hills, which is a natural forest and leopard territory,” said Prashanth Kumar, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Mysuru Territorial Division.
The authorities are forced to capture and translocate leopards to mollify local sentiments even though it has not proved to be a good solution.
More than 40 leopards have been captured and translocated in Mysuru district in the past three years alone. But once a leopard is translocated, the same space is occupied by another leopard, said Mr. Kumar.
Being highly adaptable, leopards have learnt to live in human habitations without causing harm and survive on smaller preys such as dogs and pigs. Hence, to minimise conflict in urban areas, Mr. Kumar advocated efficient waste management to reduce the proliferation of stray animals as they act as a lure for leopards.
Mr. Gubbi called for better education of the public about leopard behaviour and the need to accept the presence of wildlife while making efforts to restrict conflict situations. “But if there are emergency conflict situations such as leopards entering human dwellings or similar areas, it calls for proper handling through improved capacity building of various departments to ensure the circumstances are handled efficiently and smoothly,” he added.