Leopard Population in India Witnesses an 8% Surge from 2018 to 2022

India’s leopard population has experienced an 8% increase, rising from 12,852 in 2018 to 13,874 in 2022, as per a report released by the Environment Ministry on Thursday. The comprehensive survey, covering nearly 6.5 lakh km across 20 states, reveals both positive and concerning trends in the leopard population.

State-wise Overview

Madhya Pradesh leads with the highest number of leopards at 3,907, followed by Maharashtra (1,985), Karnataka (1,879), and Tamil Nadu (1,070). However, Uttarakhand witnessed a 22% decline, attributed to factors like poaching and human-wildlife conflict. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and West Bengal collectively experienced a 150% rise, reaching 349 animals.

Survey Details

Covering 20 states and focusing on 70% of the expected habitat, including tiger reserves and protected forest areas, the survey was coordinated by the Wildlife Institute of India. Leopards, being adaptable and found in various landscapes, often coexist with human settlements, leading to increased conflicts and mortalities. Qamar Qureshi from the Wildlife Institute of India emphasized the importance of conserving leopard habitats within tiger reserves.

Regional Analysis

The Shivalik hills and Gangetic plains witnessed a 3.4% yearly decline, while Central India, Eastern Ghats, Western Ghats, and the hills of the northeast, along with the Brahmaputra flood plains, recorded growth of 1.5%, 1%, 1%, and 1.3% per annum, respectively. The report suggests a stable overall population in the last four years, indicating minimal growth. Unlike tigers, leopards face challenges in multiple-use areas due to human interaction.

Challenges and Conservation

In the Ramnagar forest division (Uttarakhand), leopard numbers have declined, contrasting the steep growth in tiger numbers. Approximately 65% of the leopard population resides outside protected areas in the Shivalik landscape. Uttar Pradesh has seen an increase in both leopard and tiger numbers, highlighting the complex dynamics between big cats and human settlements.

Survey Methodology

Forest surveyors covered extensive distances, traveling 6,41,449 km to identify carnivore signs and estimate prey abundance. Camera traps were strategically placed at 32,803 locations, capturing 4,70,81,881 photographs.

Sampling Artefact in the Northeast

Dr. Qamar Qureshi explained the significant rise in leopard numbers in northeastern states as a “sampling artefact,” suggesting that systematic surveys and camera installations were limited in previous years.

Final Thoughts

While the overall leopard population remains stable, the survey sheds light on the challenges and nuances faced by these adaptable big cats, emphasizing the need for conservation efforts and sustainable coexistence between leopards and human populations.

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