The persistence of large carnivores in human-use areas can lead to conservation and management problems globally.

Livestock sustains leopard populations in tea gardens of West Bengal Study
news Wildlife Tuesday, April 10, 2018 - 16:33

Leopards in West Bengal have been preying on domestic animals like cattle and goats, sometimes more than forest prey, according to a new study.

Titled Diet Selection of Leopards in a Human-Use Landscape in North-Eastern India, the study is part of a long-term research by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), India Program, on the socio-ecology of human-wildlife interactions.

Leopards that inhabit the tea-gardens and forest mosaic landscape of the state have been found to be highly adaptable to living in and around human habitation with them preying on a high number of livestock such as cattle and goats.

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 these landscapes impedes efficient and science-based management. This study focused on understanding the diet of leopards specifically in the Indian state of West Bengal.

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

The collaborative study between WCS–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 sqkm with high human density.

The team collected leopard faeces and analyzed the samples for remains of prey based on the hair found in the faeces.

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.

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.

Aritra Kshettry, the lead author of the study said, “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, the study stated needs to be reconciled immediately to prevent negative attitudes of local communities towards the leopards.

The study highlights the adaptability of leopards and their patterns of prey resource use in tea-gardens that lie outside the Protected Area network.

Authored by Aritra Kshettry, Srinivas Vaidyanathan and Vidya Athreya appeared in the journal Tropical Conservation Science on March 21, 2018. The research was supported by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, The Rufford Foundation, Idea Wild and logistical support was provided by the West Bengal Forest Department.

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.