City anchor: Leopards thrive unnoticed in human-populated areas

Leopards spotted in human habitat are always reported as animals having strayed from the forest. Studies by wildlife biologist Vidya Athreya, conducted over a period of five years, show this is not true. The animals found in human inhabited areas were living unnoticed on the fringes, her work reveals. In an interesting revelation, the studies also show that the density of big cats in human-populated areas was higher than in many wildlife protected areas.

The five years' work of Athreya at Akole tehsil is set to change how human-animal conflict is viewed and how the human-animal relationship has been evolving unnoticed. Leopards, and also hyenas have adopted themselves to a life in human-populated areas and prefer avoiding contact with humans, says Athreya.

Leopards and hyenas being spotted in the rural landscape of Pune like Junnar, Khed and neighbouring talukas of Ahmednagar district have been increasingly reported.

Athreya, during her study, found that leopards diligently avoided human contact although they stay near areas thickly populated by people.

She stated that the density of leopards near human population was as high as 5 per 100 sq km during her study which she stated was higher than in many protected areas. "Also during our study we found a high density of hyenas in the same area," she said.

The study also brought out a startling fact that despite the high density of these animals, animal-human conflicts were minimal. "The town of Akole has a population of over 20,000 yet few seem to be aware leopards we were studying were living among them. In fact, a female leopard gave birth to cubs within 100 metres of the town in a sugarcane field. This indicated the high level of adaptability of the animals and their secretive nature," she said. Also the animals moved during night avoiding any human sighting.

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