Understanding the ecology of large carnivores and their interactions with people across large areas such as landscapes, regions, or entire states, is extremely important yet logistically infeasible. Newspaper reports that regularly document information about wild animals (like bears, leopards, and elephants) that frequently interact with people can be useful sources of information to undertake research on human-wildlife interactions. In a new study, scientists from the Forest Research Institute (Dehradun), Wildlife Conservation Society–India (Bangalore) and the University of Florida (USA) used newspaper media reports in the state of Rajasthan to understand the patterns and trends of interactions between leopards and humans.
Incidents involving leopards are widely reported across Rajasthan, particularly in local/regional newspapers. From January 2016 to December 2018, the researchers collated all articles reporting leopard-related incidents from Rajasthan Patrika – a Hindi publication with the highest statewide readership. The reports generally documented leopard sightings, attacks on livestock, attacks on people, leopard deaths, rescue operations by the Forest Department, and translocation of leopards. The aim of the study was to map the spatial patterns of these incidents, check for seasonal trends, understand characteristics of livestock and human victims, and evaluate management interventions that involved physical capture and translocation of leopards.
A detailed analysis of these reports involved examining 338 cases of human-leopard interactions across 26 of Rajasthan’s 33 districts. Of the 78 reports related to human attacks by leopards during the study period, around 50% were in the southern districts of Udaipur, Rajsamand, Dungarpur, Banswara, and Pratapgarh. Similarly, a majority of the 79 reports related to livestock attacks were in Jaipur districts (28%), followed by the southern districts of Udaipur, Rajsamand, Banswara and Dungarpur. Most of the 120 human victims were men (85), and the attacks were generally in human-use areas; 15 of the 120 attacks resulted in human deaths. More than 50% of media reports on livestock attacks by leopards involved goats and sheep. Leopard attacks on livestock and humans were highest in the summer, followed by winter, and lowest in the monsoon months.
During the three-year duration, 56 cases of leopard deaths were reported. More than 50% of deaths were due to vehicular collisions. The second most common cause was accidental deaths after falling into open wells (20%). Retaliatory killing by people accounted for 11% of deaths. There were 32 instances of physical capture/removal by the Forest Department. More than 50% of these captures were undertaken following only a leopard sighting in human-use areas (no damage to human life or property). The presence of breeding leopards was recorded from 15 districts, where 36 cubs were rescued by the Forest Department and 8 cubs were found dead.
Considered together, the study offers a broad understanding of the status of leopards at a state-wide scale in Rajasthan. It also shows how media reports can be used for obtaining information in a relatively quick and cost-effective manner to assess the spread of leopard incidences across a relatively large scale. The findings further substantiate that leopards are widely distributed across human-use areas, and showed that negative interactions between people and leopards, although widespread, were mainly in the eastern part of the State. The maps generated as part of the study can be useful for prioritizing management efforts in managing leopard populations, conflict situations and channeling funds. The results could thereby serve as a basis for the Forest Department to initiate a more detailed assessment of leopard populations in specific high-priority locations, focusing on human-use landscapes.
The study titled “Assessing spatio-temporal patterns of human-leopard interactions based on media reports in northwestern India” was published in the latest issue of the Journal of Threatened Taxa. The authors include Kaushal Chauhan (Forest Research Institute, India), Arjun Srivathsa (Wildlife Conservation Society–India and University of Florida, USA) and Vidya Athreya (Wildlife Conservation Society–India).
Citation: Chauhan, K., Srivathsa, A., Athreya, V. (2021). Assessing spatio-temporal patterns of human-leopard interactions based on media reports in northwestern India. Journal of Threatened Taxa, 13(6): 18453–18478.