MAN ANIMAL-ROW: STUDY HOLDS VITAL CLUES
epaper.dna.com (Pune Edition, Page 7), 16th Feb, 2009
Akole taluka of ahmednagar district has witnessed minimal human-wildlife conflicts in form of leopard attacks.
A female leopard that was photographed in Akole as part of the ongoing research project. This female was accompanied with two cubs and had come to the particular area to feed on a cow that had died recently on account of being electrocuted (Pic Courtesy: Vidya Athreya).
THE Junnar taluka of Pune district has witnessed repeated human-wildlife conflicts in the form of leopard attacks on humans and livestock. In sharp contrast, Akole taluka in Ahmednagar district has seen minimal of such conflict even though the leopard, cattle and humans live cheek-by-jowl. Writer, photographer and member of NGO Kalpvriksha PANKAJ SEKHSARIA presents a five-part series on this issue, written under the aegis of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Media Fellowships.
Dogs in this region can be seen with spiked metal collars around their neck. These collars are the dog’s best protection against the leopard. Dogs form a significant part of the leopard’s diet in these parts. (Pic by Pankaj Sekhsaria)
The forest area here is negligible, the land is cultivated intensely and the density of human population (more than 180 people / sq. km) is extremely high. (See Box 1). And yet this is also the territory of one of the world's smartest, most adaptable and efficient large predators, the leopard (See Box 2). It is an incredible, but little known reality that these agriculture dominated landscapes of Akole taluka and other neighbouring areas might indeed have some of the highest densities of the leopard found anywhere in India.
Pic: Pankaj Sekhsaria
The initial response to the presence of leopards in such a landscape is bound to be of disbelief and even worry – Is this really true? Is it not an extremely risky situation? With so many people and their cattle, is it not a situation of guaranteed conflict? Is it desirable that such a ferocious and dangerous creature of the forest like the leopard, enter such territory and shouldn't one expect mayhem in the circumstances?
A view of the agriculture dominated landscape of Akole Taluka in Ahmednagar district. This is also the landscape which is home to a large number of leopards, where importantly, cases leopard attacks on humans are virtually non-existent. (Pic by Pankaj Sekhsaria)
A significant majority of the people of Akole are farmers while the other main traditional livelihood is pastoralism. The total area of the taluka is nearly 1500 sq. kms, of which about a 1000 sq. kms is agricultural land. Census figures put the total population here at 2,71,719. Scheduled tribes form a significant chunk with their total number being 1,01,996. The area has seen a significant rise in prosperity in the last couple of decades thanks to the increased availability of water, primarily from bore-wells and the installation of lift irrigation schemes. Farmers here now grow a variety of crops that includes vegetables (cauliflower, tomatoes and onions that are mainly sent to Mumbai) wheat, maize, flowers and sugarcane. At the heart of the prosperity, or perhaps the most important causative factor, like it is across Western Maharashtra, is the Agasti Co-operative Sugar mill located in the heart of Akole town.
The leopard, Panthera pardus fusca is one of the most successful members of Indian big cat family. It is distributed throughout the subcontinent, including in the border nations of Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and southern China. It is also found in a range of diverse habitats that includes dry deciduous forests, desert ecosystems, tropical rainforests, northern coniferous forests and in areas close to human habitation. What is significant is that it is an extremely versatile and adaptable creature. This adaptability is in large measure due to the animal’s rather catholic diet which even includes arthropods, amphibians, rotting carcasses, their lesser dependence on free water (obtaining it from their prey), and their smaller size. They can easily live alongside humans, even in areas where wild prey is scarce. Historical records going back more than a century testify to this fact, though often these reports are about leopards attacking and killing humans or when the leopards were themselves killed.
Leopards are commonly caged in village areas and then released in a nearby forests. This is a policy that has been one of the primary causes of the increase in human-wildlife conflict (Pic Courtesy: Vidya Athreya)
---The other stories that are part of the series can be seen at
1) Man-Animal Row: Study holds vital clues
2) Akole's leopards have hardly jumped humans
3) How did the leopards get to Akole?
4) Conflict in Junnar is due to relocation
5) Understanding Akole's unusual phenomenon