Why leopard sightings are on the rise in and near Bengaluru

Fragmentation of their habitat is one of the major reasons cited by both conservationists and officials.

Leopard sightings in and around Bengaluru and other parts of Karnataka have taken over the headlines for a few days now. In the latest incident, a leopard was sighted near the Bheemanakuppe village in Kengeri. The videos that surfaced were reportedly said to be 15 days old in which an unsuspecting dog falls prey to the leopard. Forest officials had set up food and cage traps to catch the leopard, which eventually helped them capture the visuals of the big cat. And to the relief of the residents, the leopard was caught on Monday morning. The leopard was trapped in a cage that was kept at Kollur and was later rescued by the forest staff.

Ravi, the Deputy Range Forest Officer overseeing the case said, “Two cages were set up at a distance of nearly 5 km. The area was being monitored by us twice a day. People were asked to be alert until we caught the leopard.”

This sighting comes just days after a team of forest department captured a leopard from near an apartment off the Begur-Koppa road in the city. Another leopard was sighted inside a tourist spot Brindavan Gardens in Krishna Raja Sagara reservoir in Srirangapatna taluk of Mandya district last Thursday. Another six-month-old leopard was found dead under mysterious circumstances in a ditch in Anechakanahalli village of Mandya district.

Meanwhile, a stray dog found itself locked inside a toilet with a leopard for hours last Wednesday in Karnataka’s Bilinele village in the Dakshina Kannada district. The two animals were found inside the toilet by a local resident, she quickly bolted the door and alerted the police.

Increased sighting of Leopards

The increase in the number of sightings of leopards have worried many residents. Sanjay Mohan, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, in a conversation with TNM, highlighted a few reasons why the sightings of the leopards have increased in the cities.

According to Mohan, the environment in the sanctuaries and national parks have been successful in making the animals feel safe. “The animals are leading a better life in national parks we built, they are indulging in breeding which has also contributed in the increase of the number of the leopards,” he said.

In addition to that, he said, “During the winter season, the leopards give birth to many cubs. Many leopards foray into the cities in search of food for their young ones which can be viewed as one of the factors that have contributed to the incidents of increased sighting of leopards in the cities.”

Citing encroachment of people as one among the major reasons, Mohan opined that the human invasion of the wastelands near the forests have increased the probabilities of a leopard being sighted near residential areas.

“The poaching of wild animals has been in control for at least the past couple years now and we are hoping that it remains the same, however encroachment of the wastelands around the forest causes the animals to directly be spotted in the residential complexes,” Mohan said.

Joseph Hoover, a conservationist with the United Conservation Movement, says that other kinds of poachings have increased, forcing the leopards out of the forests. “A month ago, there was a leopard near Bengaluru which killed 11 sheep near PES University. Leopards are adaptable and can live in thick forest or on rocky terrain and now we are seeing more. One reason is the fragmentation of their habitat and the second is, people are regularly poaching and killing wild boar and deer which is natural food for leopards. What will the leopards live on? Another reason is leopards are caught and released back into a forest but if there is a leopard already there, then this leopard is pushed out again. There is no space to keep more leopards in zoos either,” he says.

Conservationists and environmentalists also say that increased activities in forests and eco-sensitive zones have led to the situation.

“The eco-sensitive zones that earlier were 4-5km beyond the forest boundaries have now been reduced to one kilometre to 100 meters in some places. The Karnataka High Court had ordered the forest department officials to form a committee to monitor the eco-sensitive zones. But, they have not undertaken the initiative,” said Bhanu Prakash of Bannerghatta Nature Conservation Trust. He further cited that this reduction of area of eco-sensitive zones have caused the animals to further foray into human settlements.

Tackling the increase in sighting

When quizzed about what people do in such situations, Mohan said, “The Borivali region in Mumbai used to face the same issue. The residents living beside Sanjay Gandhi national park] would spot a leopard very often and would panic. After multiple sessions of training and awareness programs, the people have learnt to live with it.”

Mohan said that the issue was brought upon by excessive encroachment of the wastelands near forests “Programs should be held for the citizens to make them understand leopards. The animal does not need much to hide, it can take shelter behind a bush and attack as well. They usually come in search of food and letting them take up the livestock would be ideal,” he said. He added that leopards don’t attack humans unless provoked. If no harm is caused to the wild animal, it will not cause any harm either, he said.

Bhanu Prakash added that if authorities took cognizance of activities like quarrying happening in the areas and formed committees to oversee eco-sensitive zones, these incidents will see a decline.

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