Mangaluru: I’m a Leopard but Not a Maneater! Workshop on Dealing with Leopards in Human-Use Areas

Mangaluru: A workshop on dealing with Leopards and Elephants in Human-Use Landscapes was organized at the Mangalore Press Club on Thursday 20 August, by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India Program in collaboration with Mangalore Press Club and Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation. The workshop was inaugurated by Prabhakar Sharma- Executive Director of Pilikula Biological Park, along with other dignitaries on the dais namely- Dr Vidya Athreya- Research Fellow at WCS, Virat Singh- Reporter-DNA/Mumbai Press Club, Niren Jain- Coordinator, Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation and Ronald Fernandes-President, Mangalore Press club.

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The objective of the workshop was to sensitize participants on dealing with human-wildlife interactions, and the resulting conflicts. The workshop also saw experts share latest research findings on dealing with presence of wild animals in human-use landscapes/areas, with specific focus on large cats, particularly leopards, elephants and other wild animals. The two experts of the workshop also shared simple dos and don’ts that can be communicated to the general public during times of need to keep themselves safe. The workshop also showcased the crucial role played by media in preventing conflicts, and help reduce losses to both people and animals, by spreading the awareness among people.

There were two talks delivered by Dr Vidaya Athreya and Virat Singh, followed by screening of a documentary on elephants and later interaction with the participants. Speaking on “Human- leopard interactions” Dr Vidya Athreya (WCS India Program) said, “Leopards are always in the news and often for wrong reasons. They are the most adaptable of the large cats inhabiting a diverse variety of habitats and feeding off a wide variety of prey. Dogs are most commonly preyed upon by dogs. Old British gazetteers also mention leopards coming to villages to pick up dogs and goats implying that leopards have been using human use landscapes for a very long time. That is not surprising given that wild animals do not follow man made boundaries, the maps which we have drawn for our administrative use. Animals do not understand our map boundaries and will be where there are resources for them”.

“Our research shows that they are capable of living outside forests, in croplands, among high density of people and surprisingly with very low levels of conflict. Dogs are an important component of their diet. In human use areas, they are not active in the daytime and move only in the night, even going to houses to prey on goats and dogs. They also do not attack people even though they have a high potential to do so. Our work also finds that capturing leopards simply because they are seen can increase the conflict. Results from Maharashtra show that attacks on humans increase near release sites. Results of our work also show that dialogue with stake holders is extremely important to alleviate conflict. The stake holders include the Forest Department, media, Police Department and the public” added Dr Vidya..

Speaking on the “Role of media in reporting about wildlife – human interactions” journalist Virat Singh, Mumbai Press Club said , “Mumbai is a unique city with a very high density of people (minimum of 20000 people per sq km around the 100 sq km of natural forests which are now under the Sanjay Gandhi National Park). In fact, leopards are often spotted by people of the Mumbai Metropolitan region and these leopards are moving across the landscape and not isolated to the Park even today. SGNP is one of the four urban national parks in the world. What is more important is that it houses over 30 leopards – and in the past there have been incidents of human-animal conflicts”.

“Over the last decade and a half or so, there have been around 50 deaths of human beings because of what is known as man-animal conflict. One of the efforts that he undertook was an initiative – Mumbaikars for SGNP (MfSGNP), a comprehensive project to assess and assist leopard conservation and to mitigate the man-animal conflict in and around the SGNP by involving citizens – which was a joint mechanism of Forest department, SGNP and [2] WCS India. Various reasons make the leopards use human use areas; they do not understand man-made boundaries, human use areas have large number of potential leopard prey (such as dogs and pigs) near their houses leading to visitations by leopards to prey on the dogs” added Virat..

While concluding, he said, “The Forest Department now has moved away from trapping to increased dialogue with people. It has also engaged with different stake holders (police, media, residents, scientists, citizens) to change the perception of the people. As media we have a very important role to play to make sure the right knowledge reaches the people so that such situations are resolved peacefully and do not pressurise the administration to take knee jerk actions that can lead to increasing conflict”.

Many journos and students participated in this very interesting workshop which was well presented by the two speakers- Dr Vidya Athreya and Virat Singh. Ronald Fernandes welcomed and also proposed the vote of thanks.

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