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Curiosity and the big cat 

Conservationist and writer Sanjay Gubbi speaks to CE about the human-leopard conflict, which he has elaborated upon in his latest book

Published: 26th May 2021 06:26 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th May 2021 06:26 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Sanjay Gubbi’s latest book is a treat for lovers of big cats. Leopard Diaries: The Rosette in India (Westland, Rs 699) is a detailed study on leopards, their ecological context, their fraught relationship with the human world, and how wildlife and human beings can find a way to co-exist.

Excerpts from an interview:

What about leopards made you fall in love with them?
My home district Tumkur in southern Karnataka is a part of the Deccan Plateau. It is rich in dry area wildlife, including leopards. They are a perfect carnivore - stealth, camouflage, grace and agility make them a captivating large cat. Despite being found widely in the country (their population is higher than tigers), they are elusive like phantoms.

What is the biggest threat for leopards in India?
Loss of natural prey species, especially outside protected areas. Our research has shown that in areas we work, populations of animals that a leopard preys on, such as chital, four-horned antelope, sambar, are all 90 per cent lower compared to wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. This must be true for leopard habitats across the country.

Recently, a leopard entered an apartment in Bengaluru. As human-leopard conflicts are increasing,
what should be taken care of ?

Leopard habitats are lost due to mining, quarrying and other extractive industries, developmental projects, and urbanisation.Leopards adapt to humanmodified landscapes but their survival will depend upon the
acceptance of people to live with them. We clearly need to zone areas for development and areas where leopard conservation gets priority.

What prompted you to write this book?
Though there has been literature on tigers in India, books about leopards are still largely British-era hunting literature. If we are to support leopard conservation, an important avenue is to reach out. My ambition with this book is to reach the broadest possible audience, including young conservation enthusiasts.

In India, do you think leopards get as much attention as other big cats?
It does not match what tigers get. Of course, the tiger numbers are much lower too, their habitat requirements are much larger, hence it is fair that it gets that attention. But we also need to focus on species like the leopard as they are key to wildlife beyond forest habitats. They also define the public
opinion towards wildlife conservation as they are highly conflict-prone.

What is the current count of leopards in Karnataka and in India?
My estimate for Karnataka is 2,500 leopards. On the nationallevel, we have over 20,000 leopards. We need to ensure their natural habitats and prey are well protected to sustain these numbers.

Has enough been done to protect the species?
We need to ensure protection against poaching in habitats outside protected areas. Similarly, we are losing their habitats at unprecedented levels. This calls for urgent attention if we are to conserve leopards at the landscape level. Both these factors have led to high levels of human-leopard conflict, the cost of which is borne by poor, rural communities. We need to bring down conflict to tolerable limits.



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