BPL – 123, Tale of a Leopard
Chosen as Picture of the Week
Pictures by wildlife photographers and tourists on trips to wildlife reserves can be valuable in providing additional information to scientists. As this particular ‘catch’ shows, BPL – 123 is thriving, and his superb condition is perhaps an indicator of the health of his habitat too.
This one belies the field guides and the natural history books, which usually dismiss the leopard’s diet as “scrounging on smaller prey.” In actual fact, leopards are powerful predators that routinely kill fairly hefty prey such as spotted deer and sambar fawns.
Even so, Vinay S Kumar’s photograph of a leopard dragging a gaur calf is not a sight you see everyday. The picture, which was taken in Karnataka’s Bandipur Tiger Reserve, shows a male leopard dragging his massive kill to safety. A gaur calf this size probably weighs about 100 kg. A forest dwelling, full-grown male Indian leopard on the other hand, would weigh between 50 – 70 kg.
Leopards are legendary for hauling prey much larger than themselves into trees to keep them from the clutches of other predators. A leopard in Kenya was once observed dragging a young giraffe carcass weighing an estimated 125 kg 5.7 m up a tree. The leopard in this photo however, placed the kill vertically beneath a tree, while it sat a few metres above and guarded it from the safety of its perch.
Fascinated with Vinay’s picture, CI’s editors sent it to researchers at Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) – India Program, who have been running the longest tiger-monitoring programme in the world. Their huge database of ‘camera trap’ pictures also includes hundreds of pictures of leopards. This male was quickly identified thanks to special computer software that can compare rosette patterns, as Bandipur Leopard #123 or ‘BPL-123′, which was first camera-trapped on December 2, 2004, according to Dr. N. Samba Kumar, Joint Director – Conservation Science, WCS – India.
The intensive, long-term camera trapping project, implemented by the Centre for Wildlife Studies, in collaboration with the Karnataka Forest Department, and with support from Wildlife Conservation Society, has yielded extremely valuable data on large carnivore densities, as well as recruitment and survival rates, all of which are crucial to gauge how big cat populations are faring. In some cases the photographs also help track the life histories of individual tigers and leopards. In this context, pictures taken by wildlife photographers and even tourists on trips to wildlife reserves can be valuable in providing additional information. As this particular ‘catch’ shows, BPL – 123 is thriving, and his superb condition is perhaps an indicator of the health of his habitat too.
Editor’s note: Vinay Kumar’s sensational photograph, and the investigative followup by Conservation India and WCS-India, have gained wide and global media coverage. See these news articles on CBS News, Mongabay, Fox News and The Science Daily.