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India’s Leopard Population Reaches 13,874, Growing at 1.08% Annually: Report

Union Minister Shri Bhupender Yadav released a report on the status of leopards in India on 29th February 2024. The fifth cycle leopard population estimation was conducted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority and Wildlife Institute of India, in collaboration with State Forest Departments, as part of the quadrennial “Monitoring of Tiger, Co-predators, prey and their habitat” exercise.

Leopards, is an enigmatic animal which evoke reverence and dislike and is facing escalating threats across their range in India. Amidst habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and poaching, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) spearheaded the fifth cycle of leopard population estimation, shedding light on the status and trends of these elusive big cats.

Spanning tiger range States and encompassing diverse landscapes, the comprehensive survey employed robust scientific methodologies using technology to assess leopard abundance. Through a meticulous process combining camera trapping, habitat analysis, and population modeling, the study revealed crucial insights into leopard distribution and conservation challenges.

Key Findings:

India’s leopard population is estimated at 13,874 (Range: 12,616 – 15,132) individuals, representing stable population in comparison to the similar area being sampled in 2018 with 12852 (12,172-13,535) individuals. This estimate represent population of 70% of leopard habitat, the Himalayas and semi arid parts of country which are not tiger habitat were not sampled.

Central India shows a stable or slightly growing population of leopards (2018: 8071, 2022: 8820), Shivalik hills and Gangetic plains experienced decline (2018: 1253, 2022: 1109). If we look at the area which was sampled both in 2018 and 2022 across India, there is a 1.08% per annum growth. In Shivalik hills and Gangetic plains, there is a -3.4% decline per annum, while the largest growth rate was in Central India and Eastern Ghats  of 1.5%.

Madhya Pradesh houses the largest population of leopards in the country – 3907 (2018: 3421), followed by Maharashtra (2022: 1985; 2018: 1,690), Karnataka (2022: 1,879 ; 2018: 1,783) and Tamil Nadu (2022: 1,070; 2018: 868).  Tiger Reserves or sites with highest leopard population are, Nagarajunasagar Srisailam (Andhra Pradesh), followed by Panna (Madhya Pradesh), and  Satpura (Madhya Pradesh).

The fifth cycle of leopard population estimation (2022) in India focused on forested habitats within 18 tiger states, covering four major tiger conservation landscapes. Non-forested habitats, arid, and high Himalayas above 2000 msl (~ 30% area) were not sampled for leopard. This cycle conducted a foot survey spanning 6,41,449 km to estimate carnivore signs and prey abundance. Camera traps were strategically placed at 32,803 locations, resulting in a total of 4,70,81,881 photographs, resulting in 85,488 photo-captures of leopard.

The findings underscore the critical role of Protected Areas in conserving leopard populations. While tiger reserves serve as important strongholds, addressing conservation gaps outside protected areas is equally vital. Rising incidents of conflict pose challenges for both leopards and communities. Since leopards survival outside protected areas is equally important, collaborative efforts involving government agencies, conservation organizations, and local communities are essential to enhance habitat protection and mitigate human-wildlife conflict.

“The leopard status report exemplifies the “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam” philosophy, highlighting human-leopard coexistence. India’s unique community tolerance toward wildlife serves as a global model amid biodiversity decline. Kudos to resilient communities, Forest Department, NTCA officials, and Wildlife Institute of India scientists for uniting in conservation efforts, showcasing the power of collective action for a sustainable environment.”

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