Leopards, wolves and hyenas show resilience in human-use landscapes in India

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Posted in: Press Release

A new study reveals how large carnivores like leopards, wolves and hyenas share space with people in Western Maharashtra, making these ‘conservation-enabled’ landscapes.

Bengaluru, 12th April 2019: India’s focus on large carnivore conservation and active management is mostly centered on forested National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries. However, there is increasing evidence that the country’s diverse non-protected habitats support a high diversity of wildlife that has adapted to share space with humans. In a new study, scientists from Wildlife Conservation Society-India, Foundation for Ecological Research and Learning, University of Florida (USA), Centre for Wildlife Studies and the Maharashtra State Forest Department find that leopards, wolves and hyenas show great potential to share lands with people outside protected areas.

The scientists undertook field surveys across ~89,000 sq. km area of Western Maharashtra, which included a mix of semi-arid lands and agricultural fields with the Protected Areas contributing less than 3 % of the area (~ 2500 sq. km). Focusing on leopards, Indian wolves and striped hyenas, the authors combined information from interviews with Forest Department field staff and statistical models to map the distribution of these three large carnivore species. The study found that leopards occupied 57%, wolves occupied 64% and hyenas occupied 75% of the landscape. Factors like agricultural land-use, built-up areas, domestic livestock and presence of wild prey species influenced the carnivores’ distribution patterns.

“Our work clearly shows the importance of areas outside designated Protected Areas for conservation of large carnivores. This phenomenon is not new, especially in these landscapes where human communities have been present for a few 1000 years. In India, separating wilderness and human areas is often a common administrative model, which makes us ill-equipped to deal with issues of people and wildlife outside the Protected Areas. Going forward we do need to focus on these shared landscapes as well,” said Iravatee Majgaonkar, the lead author of the study.

The findings shed light on the ability of large carnivores to exist alongside people in ‘conservation-enabled’ landscapes of India, seldom seen elsewhere in the world. The authors speculate that current and future changes in land-use practices, such as agricultural intensification and spread of permanent irrigation, could bear consequences for the three carnivores. The study also calls for expanding the current conservation narratives in the country to recognize the potential of human-dominated landscapes as conservation habitats, where people and predators co-adapt and co-exist.

The study appears in the recent issue of the international journal Conservation Science and Practice. The authors include Iravatee Majgaonkar (formerly with Centre for Wildlife Studies and now with Wildlife Conservation Society-India), Srinivas Vaidyanathan (Foundation for Ecological Research and Learning), Arjun Srivathsa (University of Florida, USA and Wildlife Conservation Society-India), Shweta Shivakumar (Wildlife Conservation Society-India), Sunil Limaye (Maharashtra State Forest Department) and Vidya Athreya (Wildlife Conservation Society-India). The research was primarily supported by Rufford Small Grant Foundation and the Maharashtra State Forest Department.

Contact: Iravatee Majgaonkar (iravati.m@gmail.com); Ph: +91-9730951799

Article link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/csp2.34

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