Leopards use a wide range of habitats from natural forests to human-dominated landscapes and conflicts sometimes arise from loss of livestock or attacks on people in interface areas. In a fragmented rainforest and plantation landscape in southern India, we examined diet of large carnivores (particularly leopards) using scat analysis with DNA-based identification of predator species, and relative abundance of prey species in different land-uses using transect surveys. Spatio-temporal patterns in conflict and attitudes of local people were analysed from conflict records with the Forest Department and questionnaire surveys in 28 plantation colonies and eight tribal settlements. Large carnivores predominantly (98.1%) consumed wild prey species and domestic prey species contributed <2% to overall prey biomass. Similarly, for leopards four wild prey species (Indian muntjac, Indian spotted chevrotain, sambar, and Indian porcupine) contributed 95.1% of prey biomass, with the rest being minor wild prey species (no livestock in identified scats). In the landscape, wild prey species persisted but varied in relative abundance by land-use type, with forest fragments supporting higher abundances of most species. ... In a 3-year period (2008 – 2010), 32 head of livestock (cow, buffalo, and goat) were reported by respondents as lost to carnivore depredation (economic loss averaging INR 9732 or ~USD 216 per incident). Over the same period, there were eight attacks on people, resulting in three fatalities (all children). Attitudes towards leopards were not affected by incidence of livestock depredation, but related instead to occurrence of attacks on people in the colony. Livestock depredation at a colony was significantly and positively related to livestock numbers, and interactively with distance from protected area (positive) and number of people (negative). To minimise conflicts, we suggest adoption of a combination of measures including better herding, improved livestock corrals, safety precautions for adults and children at night in estates, and proper waste management, besides protection of habitat remnants that sustain wild prey populations. These will help safeguard human life and reduce economic losses, thereby mitigating conflict and promoting human – leopard coexistence in such landscapes.
NCF Technical Report #18, Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore.