Attacks on people: Leopards affect smaller areas than tigers and (African) lions

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Posted in: Press Release

Distinct patterns emerge around human injuries and deaths caused by leopards, lions and tigers in three countries  

  • Using disease outbreak dynamics, a novel approach, scientists Craig Packer, Nicholas Fountain- Jones including WCS – India scientists Shweta Shivakumar and Vidya Athreya, look at the spatial characteristics of large cat attacks on humans, over time.
  • This analysis was from three countries – India, Nepal and Tanzania using 908 confirmed cases of injuries and deaths of humans due to lions, tigers and leopards.
  • It was found that the spread of incidences around lions in Tanzania was greater in area and lasted for a longer time than those of tigers in Maharashtra and leopards in Pune and Himachal Pradesh.

Bengaluru, December 13, 2018: Incidences of attacks on humans vary with each cat species, the area and duration of these being more in the case of lions, as compared to tigers or leopards. This is one of the findings from a study, conducted in three countries, on variations across space and time in attacks on humans by the different cat species.

The study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology was conducted by Craig Packer, Nicholas Fountain-Jones and WCS-India scientists Shweta Shivakumar and Dr. Vidya Athreya.

In a novel approach, the scientists used a method similar to the one used to analyze patterns during disease outbreaks. Using the space-time scan method, they analyzed Spatio-temporal patterns of lions, leopards and tigers causing human death and injuries. The analysis used 908 confirmed cases of injuries and deaths to humans from the attacks in India, Nepal and Tanzania.

The spread of attacks by lions on humans in Tanzania, resulting in injuries or deaths, was greater in area and lasted for a longer time than those by tigers in Maharashtra and Nepal, and leopards in Pune and Himachal Pradesh. The incidences occurred mostly in residential world land habitat in the case of lions, and in rain-fed croplands in the case of tigers and leopards.

The scientists speculate that this change in pattern could be due to the differences among the two cat families. Lions live in prides of large numbers, with risky behavior picked up by the group members, causing larger area and time over which human injuries and deaths prevail. On the other hand, leopards and tigers are solitary species with only mother-to-cub learning anecdotally documented. This might explain why the leopard and tiger outbreaks are smaller in dimension.

This study was done across three countries (India, Nepal, Tanzania) and five locations (Southern Tanzania, Pune district, Himachal Pradesh state, Maharashtra state, Chitwan National Park).

Injuries and deaths of people due to wildlife elicits strong negative reaction from people towards wildlife. Studies like the present one help in understanding the reasons behind such incidences.  Understanding the spatio-temporal pattern differences in attacks among the large cats gives insights into the area prone to such incidences, given the presence of such animals with a propensity for attacking people.

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