India Releases Report on Leopard Population Status

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) have released a report on the status of leopards in India. The report provides key insights into leopard distribution, population trends, and conservation challenges based on data from the fifth cycle of leopard population estimation conducted in 2022.

Survey Methodology

The leopard census was carried out as part of the quadrennial survey to monitor tigers, co-predators, prey and their habitats in tiger range states. It focused on forest habitats in 18 tiger states, covering major tiger conservation landscapes.

Field teams walked 641,449 km of trails to estimate leopard signs and prey abundance. Camera traps were set up at 32,803 locations, resulting in 85,488 leopard photo-captures from 470,881,881 photographs. Scientific methodologies combining habitat evaluation, camera trapping and population modelling were used.

Key Findings

  • India’s leopard population is estimated at 13,874 (range: 12,616 – 15,132). This indicates a stable population compared to 2018 estimates of 12,852 leopards.
  • Madhya Pradesh has the highest leopard population with 3,907 individuals followed by Maharashtra (1,985) and Karnataka (1,879).
  • Protected areas and tiger reserves like Nagarjunsagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve (Andhra Pradesh), Panna Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh) and Satpura Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh) support high densities of leopards.
  • Central India shows a stable or slightly increasing trend. Shivalik-Gangetic plains has seen a 3.4% annual decline between 2018 and 2022.

Population Trends

The current leopard census indicates an overall stable population at the national level since 2018. Region-wise, Central India and Eastern Ghats show a modest annual growth rate of 1.5%. However, the Shivalik-Gangetic landscape has suffered a 3.4% annual decline in leopard numbers.

If we consider the specific areas sampled in both 2018 and 2022, a marginal growth rate of 1.08% is noticed. But this doesn’t account for the approximately 30% of leopard habitats not surveyed including arid regions, higher Himalayas and non-forest areas.

Conservation Challenges

Rising human-leopard conflicts pose serious conservation and social challenges. Leopards fare better in protected areas but survival in unsecured habitats is critical to long-term viability of populations.

Habitat fragmentation, poaching, prey depletion, retaliatory killings over livestock depredation, traffic accidents and illegal wildlife trade are all key threats. Climate change impacts may exacerbate resource pressures going ahead.

Addressing gaps outside protected areas through government-community partnerships is vital alongside strengthening reserve management for landscape-level connectivity. Rapid response protocols dealing with emergency situations also need to be instituted.

Recommendations

  • Improve protection in tiger corridors and buffer zones to facilitate movement across reserves
  • Promote community stewardship models in multiple-use forests with incentives for coexistence
  • Develop early warning systems using technology to pre-empt conflict scenarios
  • Enhance coordination between central and state agencies by institutionalizing response protocols
  • Incorporate habitat parameters and conflict hotspots in predictive distribution and abundance modelling
  • Expand monitoring to unsurveyed areas in future census efforts


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