Camera ‘Traps’ Black Leopards in Dandeli-Anshi

Camera Trap Image, Ullas Karanth/WCS

Chosen as 'Picture of the Week'

Besides tantalizing glimpses, like this camera trap photograph of a melanistic leopard with two normal coloured ones, the long term monitoring by Centre for Wildlife Studies has also documented two record dispersals of tigers in India: BDT-130, which dispersed from Bhadra to Dandeli in May 2008 (covering a distance of nearly 200 km) and BPT-241, which dispersed from Bandipur to Shikaripur area in May 2011 (covering about 280 km)Such information shows the value of intensive monitoring protocols, which have been recently specified by The National Tiger Conservation Authority under Phase-IV national tiger estimation.

Perhaps because they remind people of ‘Bagheera’, from Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, or perhaps because of their distinctive look, black leopards have always generated a buzz. Although they are just a genetic variant among the more common spotted form, it is usually assumed, even among many conservationists, that black leopards are a different species. Though the black form also occurs in dry forests, it tends to be more common in denser and humid forest regions (for example virtually all leopards captured in the Wildlife Conservation Society’s camera trap surveys in Malaysia are black). In Karnataka, Dandeli-Anshi appears to be the ‘hotspot’ for this melanistic form.  There have been more than a 100 photo-captures of black leopards in the dense evergreen forests of Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve in Karnataka during camera trap surveys in the past three years.

These surveys are part of the long-term camera trap studies of tigers and leopards in the Malenad-Mysore Tiger Landscape of Karnataka, for over two decades, by the Centre for Wildlife Studies, with support from the Wildlife Conservation Society.  This unique project executed in partnership with the Karnataka Forest Department and National Tiger Conservation Authority has generated several interesting capture events of black leopards in this landscape, including some in drier forests. At Bandipur, a black leopard was photo-captured on the 24th of April 2008, along Chippana Halla Road. We recorded another photo-capture on Danadari Camp Road on the 7th of February 2010. At Bhadra, there were three photo-capture events of black leopards in the month of February 2009 along Uddinakatte D-Line and Kavalapura Road.

During the current year of intensive tiger monitoring (under Phase IV of National Tiger Estimation) in Dandeli-Anshi Tiger Reserve, the estimation project led by Dr. Ullas Karanth of WCS threw up a unique photo-capture of a family of three leopards, with one being melanistic, and two being spotted. These photo captures were made at Satkhand-Kalamkhand Road on 22nd May 2012 by a survey team working under the guidance of Dr. Samba Kumar, Joint Director – Conservation Science, WCS.

 

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Dr. Ullas Karanth is Director for Science-Asia, Wildlife Conservation Society, New York.



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