Issue of the Week: India’s Leopard Population on the Decline

Sri Lanka Leopard

Last week we discussed how population growth in Africa is negatively impacting wildlife through habitat encroachment and increased human-wildlife conflict. These problems, though heightened in Africa due to its dramatic growth rate, are not confined to its borders.

Similar problems are seen in India. A new study shows an 80 percent decrease in India’s leopard population over the last 100 years. The study was conducted over four years by Samrat Mondal of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Krithi K Karanth of the Wildlife Conservation Society of India (WCSP), and Uma Rama Krishnan of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS).

“The population estimation of leopards has been done in different parts of the country but no cumulative data is available. We collected molecular data from fecal samples of leopards, and took into account depletion of their habitat as well as prey range,” Mondal said.

The Indian leopard is distributed throughout India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and parts of Pakistan and is an extremely territorial species. Habitat encroachment is a major problem in overcrowded countries, leading to increased instances of human-wildlife conflict that often results in the death of more individual leopards.

Alert Leopard

In March 2013, a study estimated that leopard density was five per 100 sq km in the valley of Ahmednagar district. Researchers with WCSP speculate that there has never been such large numbers of big predators constricted in such a densely populated human landscape. While that may seem like good news for leopards, it is actually a sign of problems ahead. Strong limitations in available habitat are confining leopards, which will lead to increases in conflicts with humans and starvation due to lack of prey.

Programs are in place to conserve the regions iconic wildlife but issues arise when efforts are not distributed evenly. Tiger conservation has been a primary focus in India since the late 20th century. With tigers receiving a majority of the protection efforts, poachers have begun to replace trade in tiger parts with leopard parts. This makes poaching the newest threat to the already dwindling Indian leopard population.

As more studies arise demonstrating the negative effects of human population growth and habitat encroachment, governments must make wise decisions with land use and wildlife conservation. Proper land management and evenly distributed resources can conserve a multitude of species and increase biodiversity in a world where “wild habitat” is constantly shrinking. It is paramount that countries work to save its native wildlife for future generations to enjoy.

The study on Leopard Population Decrease has been sent to wildlife journals and is currently under review.

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