Date Published: October 5, 2018
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Dipanjan Naha, S. Sathyakumar, G. S. Rawat, Bi-Song Yue.
Human killing is the decisive and most critical expression of human-leopard conflict and needs to be addressed sensitively to maintain local support for leopard conservation in India. This research was undertaken to investigate the ecological aspects of human killing and injury, spatial characteristic and pattern of such sites, temporal and seasonal trends of attacks and perception of local communities towards leopard in the Indian Himalayan region (IHR). We surveyed two sites i) Pauri Garhwal in the western part and ii) North Bengal (Dooars) in the eastern part of IHR, compiled secondary data on human-leopard conflict records and made field visits to (N = 101) conflict sites. We also conducted (N = 186) semi-structured questionnaire surveys in each of the sites to assess perception of local communities towards leopard. We analyzed the conflict data using rare events model in a binary logistic regression framework to understand spatial patterns of such incidents for Pauri Garhwal and North Bengal. The average number of injuries and deaths to leopard attacks in Pauri was estimated to be 11 (SE 1.13) and 3 (SE 0.6) per year between 2006–2016 whereas in North Bengal it was estimated to be 70 (SE 9.2) and 1.6 (SE 0.3) respectively between 2004–2016. About 97% of the leopard attacks in North Bengal and 60% of the leopard attacks in Pauri resulted in human injuries. Majority of the leopard attack victims in Pauri were children and young people, whereas in North Bengal it was middle aged tea estate workers. Attack on humans in Pauri were recorded mostly near areas with dense scrub cover whereas in North Bengal it was reported within tea-estates. The percentage of human deaths to leopard attacks in Pauri were higher (40%) compared to a mere (3%) in North Bengal. Forty-one percent of respondents in Pauri and 75% in North Bengal were positive towards presence and conservation of leopard. A predictive risk map revealed central and northern regions of Pauri Garhwal and protected areas, peripheral areas in central and south-western dooars (North Bengal) as high “human-leopard conflict risk zones”. This analytical procedure can be adopted in other sites to identify potential human-carnivore conflict risk zones.
There has been an increase in severity of human-wildlife conflicts in India in the last few decades with tiger (Panthera tigris), Common leopard (Panthera pardus) and Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) being the three most problematic species reported to cause extensive damage to human lives, livestock and property. While an extensive protected area (PA) network and land allotted for agricultural production were cited as two major reasons , the real cause of escalation of conflicts in the recent years has been attributed to habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation due to increasing anthropogenic pressures, particularly development, reducing tolerance levels to wildlife, and local abundance of problem species . When there are incidents of large cats such as tiger and leopard killing and injuring humans, it evokes a serious public backlash and a setback for conservation efforts. Though studies have been periodically conducted within PAs on certain aspects of ecology of such large mammals in India, extensive research on such aspects in regions where they share space with humans are limited [3–5]. Knowledge gained through such studies in human-dominated landscapes help solve complex conservation problems such as human-wildlife conflicts [6–12], where apart from the dynamics of such events, a thorough understanding of the social aspects of conflicts are essential for implementing further mitigation measures [13–19].
The present study explores the nature of human-leopard conflicts and perception of local communities across the western and eastern Indian Himalayan region. The predictive map highlights potential human-leopard conflict zones and helps formulate mitigation measures for these sites. The number of injuries to leopard attacks were much higher in North Bengal compared to Pauri Garhwal, whereas deaths to such attacks were higher in Pauri. The total number of deaths and injuries to leopard attacks in Pauri district have reduced to 154 between 2004 and 2016 compared to 556 reported between 1998–2005 . Compared to the 1990’s when there were only 121 leopard attacks in 4 years in North Bengal it has increased substantially to 805 in the last 13 years between 2004–2016. In North Bengal the primary reason of rise in leopard attacks could be the large scale expansion of tea estates and subsequent increase in human activities within the gardens .