Is Thar the new home of Indian leopard

Leopard (File photo: Courtesy of San Diego Zoo)
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By Archana Sharma

Jaipur– Leopards are now looking for new habitats, places where they were never seen before, this search for new territory was highlighted by researchers from Udaipur and Jodhpur in their study.

Satish Sharma, a renowned environmental scientist and retired Assistant Conservator of Forests of Udaipur; Shravan Singh Rathore, Medical Officer of Machia Biological Park, Jodhpur; and Vijay Koli, Assistant Professor and Environmentalist of Mohanlal Sukhadia University, The National Academy of Sciences, in their research paper published in India, said that leopards (Panthera pardus, or tendua in Hindi) usually lives near evergreen forests and residential areas.

However, setting a new normal, these big cats have now started moving towards the Thar Desert over the last decade where it never had a presence earlier.

The paper, titled “Leopard expansion and movement towards the Thar Desert of Rajasthan”, states that the leopard — a large cat specie which is mainly found on the edges of deciduous, evergreen, shrubby forest and human habitation, but whose presence was still absent in the arid regions of Rajasthan (Thar desert) and Gujarat (Kutch region) and high Himalayan regions is changing.

According to Koli, “The presence of this species was recorded from five districts of Rajasthan which are found in the extension range of Thar Desert.”

He said that this species was found in different types of habitats in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Churu, Barmer and Bikaner districts in places like university campuses, factory campuses, near fields, surrounded by wells, bush extension areas and human habitat areas. The most amazing fact that all the identified leopards were male, he said further.

Koli said that his research based on 14 incidents reported in the last 10 years in five districts, found the presence of these leopards in the area stretching from 55.4 km to 413.4 km from district borders in the Thar Desert.

In most of these cases, these male leopards were caught by the forest department and then released into their designated boundary area.

Environmental scientist Satish Sharma says that leopards generally maintain their territory. They do not allow the second panther to enter the territory. Therefore, it is difficult for all male panthers to live in a fixed boundary area due to increasing number of leopards in a fixed boundary area or simultaneously increasing number of male leopards.

Powerful males establish their limits, but weak or defeated males have to migrate and move to another place. So when the number of leopards increase in a particular region, the new males move to other areas in search of their independent territory. Such cases have also been seen in Ranthambore where Tigers moved to other areas as its numbers increased, he added.

According to Sharma, another reason is the increase in irrigation facilities, farming and plantation activities in the Thar Desert due to the presence of Indira Gandhi Canal.

All these actions have increased the amount of vegetation cover in Thar desert. Also, there is availability of water throughout the year. All these conditions provide a favourable environment for the leopard’s presence.

The third reason is the increase in domesticated animals and wildlife in the Thar Desert, which leopards can feed on throughout the year, he added.

Researcher Shravan Singh Rathore, Medical Officer of Machia Biologic Park, Jodhpur, says that in the present research, it has been found that at present only male leopards are entering the Thar Desert. If female leopard also enters here in future, then these species can establish its presence in the Thar desert permanently. In addition, there is a possibility that in the future, cases of human-leopard conflict may increase in these areas. (IANS)



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