Poaching, human-wildlife conflict and continuous land use change associated with agriculture, tea gardens, linear infrastructure are major threats to leopard populations in Northeast hills and Brahmaputra flood plains, says a report.
The Status of Leopards in India 2018 report was released by Union Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar in New Delhi on Monday.
As per the report, leopards are distributed widely in the Northeastern landscape from the high altitude of Eastern Himalayas to the forests, adjacent to tea gardens in the flood plains (50m-3000m MSL).
But due to sampling inadequacy, the leopard population was estimated only from the camera trapped sites of Northern West Bengal, Manas and Nameri tiger reserves of Assam and southern valley of Pakke tiger reserve of Arunachal Pradesh (Figure 9).
“Few photographs were obtained from Kaziranga, and Namdapha tiger reserves but due to low detection and low sample size, population was not estimated from these tiger reserves,” the report said.
Of a total of 1871 carnivore positive samples that were extracted, 704 were positively identified as those belonging to leopards.
“From 704 leopard positive samples, we were able to identify 317 unique individuals, after removing samples that did not amplify well, as well as recaptures of individuals. Leopard individuals identified 45 leopard individuals from the North East,” the report pointed out.
As per the report, India now has 12,852 leopards as compared to the previous estimate of 7910 conducted in 2014.
More than 60% increase in population has been recorded.
The states of Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra recorded the highest leopard estimates at 3,421, 1,783 and 1,690 respectively.
Speaking on the occasion, Union minister Javadekar remarked that monitoring of the tiger in India has clearly shown its umbrella role in the ecosystem, which has shed light on other charismatic species like leopard.
India’s world record tiger survey also estimated the population of leopards and the tiger range was found home to 12,852 (12,172-13,535) leopards.
They occur in prey rich protected areas as well as multi-use forests.
A total of 5,240 adult individual leopards were identified in a total of 51,337 leopard photographs using pattern recognition software.
The statistical analysis estimates the leopard population at – 12,800 leopards within the tiger’s range.
“The leopard was estimated across forested habitats in tiger range areas of the country but other leopard occupied areas such as non-forested habitats (coffee and tea plantations and other land uses from where leopards are known to occur), higher elevations in the Himalayas, arid landscapes and majority of North East landscape were not sampled and, therefore, the population estimation should be considered as minimum number of leopards in each of the landscapes,” Javadekar said.
Tiger has not only served as an umbrella species but even its monitoring has helped evaluate the status of other species, like the leopard.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority-Wildlife Institute of India (NTCA-WII) shall be reporting on several other species shortly, Javadekar further said.