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Leopards love cattle, goats more than forest prey: Here is why

By Deepika
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    Bengaluru, July 19: Leopards love cattle and goats. The tea gardens in West Bengal are fast becoming the favourite hunting grounds for leopards. The highly adaptable predators have been preying on livestock like goats and cattle - sometimes more than wild prey like deer because of their easier availability.

    Leopards highly adaptable to living in human-use areas

    Leopards highly adaptable to living in human-use areas

    A new study on leopards that inhabit the tea-garden and forest mosaic landscape of West Bengal finds that they are highly adaptable to living in human-use areas, and that their prey includes high numbers of livestock like cattle and goats.

    The study is a part of WCS India's long-term research on the socio ecology of human-wildlife interactions. The persistence of large carnivores in human-use areas can lead to conservation and management problems globally. Lack of ecological knowledge of such carnivores in human-use landscapes impedes efficient and science-based management. This study focused on understanding the diet of leopards specifically in the Indian state of West Bengal.

    Photo credit: Biddappa

    A study conducted in forest mosaic in northern West Bengal

    A study conducted in forest mosaic in northern West Bengal

    The team estimated the diet usage, prey availability and diet selection of leopards in a tea-plantation dominated landscape.

    The collaborative study between Wildlife Conservation Society-India Program, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Foundation of Ecological Research Advocacy and Learning and West Bengal Forest Department, was conducted in a tea-garden and forest mosaic in northern West Bengal state covering an area ~400 sq km with high human density.

    The team collected more than 120 putative leopard scats (faeces) from field and after careful examination, confirmed 70 of the samples to belong to leopards. These samples were analyzed for remains of prey items based on the hairs found in the farces. The available prey for the leopard was estimated using field surveys (distance sampling) and statistical models. Used prey and available prey were compared to understand the selectivity in diet of the leopards.

    Photo credit: Biddappa

    Cattle and goats are the major victims

    Cattle and goats are the major victims

    The study found high usage of domestic prey such as cattle and goats by leopards and among wild prey, rhesus macaques were preyed upon more that their proportional availability.

    Photo credit: Kalyan Verma

    '6 times higher'

    '6 times higher'

    Aritra Kshettry, the lead author of the study says, "The domestic prey available to the leopard is six times higher than wild prey in the study area. This implies that leopards are feeding on whatever is more available to them and not necessarily choosing domestic prey over wild prey". The anthropogenic food resource allows carnivores like leopards to persist in tea-estates and non-forested areas in the landscape.

    However, losses to people due to livestock kills needs to be reconciled immediately to prevent negative attitudes of local communities towards the leopards.

    Photo credit: Ramki Sreenivasan

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