Livestock sustains leopard populations in the tea gardens of West Bengal, study finds

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BENGALURU, 6th April 2018: A new study on leopards that inhabit the tea-garden and forest mosaic landscape of West Bengal finds that they are highly adaptable to living in human-use areas, and that their prey includes high numbers of livestock like cattle and goats. The study is a part of WCS India’s long-term research on the socio ecology of human-wildlife interactions. 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 human-use landscapes impedes efficient and science-based management. This study focused on understanding the diet of leopards specifically in the Indian state of West Bengal.

The team estimated the diet usage, prey availability and diet selection of leopards in a tea-plantation dominated landscape. The collaborative study between Wildlife Conservation Society–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 sq km with high human density.

The team collected more than 120 putative leopard scats (faeces) from field and after careful examination, confirmed 70 of the samples to belong to leopards. These samples were analyzed for remains of prey items based on the hairs 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 says, “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 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.

The study titled “Diet Selection of Leopards (Panthera pardus) in a Human-Use Landscape in North-Eastern India” authored by Mr. Aritra Kshettry, Mr. Srinivas Vaidyanathan and Dr. Vidya Athreya, appeared in the journal Tropical Conservation Science on March 21 st 2018. It may be accessed here:

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.

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