Saturday, September 3, 2011

Leopards in Kanha

The focus on tigers pushes this magnificent cat into the background. In most of the Indian tiger reserves leopards are not much sought after. They are treated as one of the inhabitants of the ecosystem. Very little work is done on these animals except at places where man eating menace exists.

Though much required, the attention only on the tiger is not a good policy. Consequent studies and research on both will assist in conservation of all big cats in he country. There are many common characteristic features in these carnivores, discovering facts related to one will lead to helping the other. 

Kanha is a large intact ecosystem that is home to the leopard besides the Bengal Tiger. The tigers presence puts the animal in a precarious situation - kind of nightmarish existence. This is the main reason for the leopard to turn nocturnal and making an arboreal existence. In Sri Lanka where the tiger is absent these cats exhibit diurnal behavior. 

In Kanha National Park the panther is more active in the periphery of the forests and the surrounding villages. Its range covers most of the buffer zone with some presence in the core area as well. Frequent incidence of livestock killing are those by leopards and surprisingly the animal has killed live stock bigger in size as was evident at Boda Chhapri Village.  But the core is noticeably dominated by the tigers. In a conflict with tiger the panther is killed and eaten without fail. Hence the spacing mechanism adopted by this animal is remarkable but nevertheless many of these cats are hunted down by tigers. The extent is not known in absence of reliable data but I presume the figure would be on the higher side.    

The competition for food is one reason for this lack of tolerance among these tertiary carnivores. The leopard cannot kill animals larger than female sambar deer, it definitely avoids large sized prey species. It's adaptability is more tenacious than that of the striped cat.  It can live on consuming small animals, birds, poultry, livestock, besides the prey available in the forests. This animal can also survive in broken ecosystems or denuded forests with little bit of day cover.

There are assumed to be around 70 leopards in Kanha Tiger Reserve in an area of 1940 sq km. But I believe that it is next to impossible to come to the correct conclusion since the animal moves in diverse habitats and is very elusive.  An extensive camera trapping can assist in this task besides keeping tab on livestock predation and records of sightings. 

In Kanha Zone a leopard was seen regularly last year near the Khatia Gate. One animal has been seen and photographed several times link road 7.  This animal is rarely seen in the grasslands of the reserve since these dominated by the much larger striped cousin. I have seen them near villages at night on Kanha Indri Road sulking in nullahs bushes in search of suitable livestock.   

The status of this animal is precarious all over with lot of killing by man wherever it survives. The number of hides being confiscated from poachers is suggestive of vary large numbers being killed in India. This is going to result in complete extermination of the animal from large part of its historical range. Man animal conflict and urbanization of denuded forest adds to the quick decrease in population.