The leopard (Panthera pardus) is one of the top predators found over a wide geographic range and also adapted to human-dominated landscapes. They are elusive and solitary species with a diet that constitutes a wide range of prey species. The combination of habitat adaptability and catholic diet also makes it a highly conflict-prone species.
The leopard is listed under the ‘Vulnerable’ category in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species (Stein et al. 2016). Under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 in India, they are listed as a Schedule 1 species which provides them with the highest level of protection.
In India, few studies have been carried out over the years to estimate leopard density and abundance in protected areas (PAs) and adjoining habitats that include both forested and human-inhabited areas (Harihar et al. 2009; Athreya et al. 2013; Borah et al. 2014; Gubbi et al. 2017). However, there is a serious lack of population information about the species both within PAs and their habitats outside PAs due to the limited number of studies and the leopards’ wide geographic distribution.
Leopards are exposed to several threats such as habitat loss and fragmentation, retaliatory killing, vehicular collisions, poaching, depletion of prey and other unconventional threats (Gubbi et al. 2014; Jacobson et al. 2016; Gubbi et al. 2017; Gubbi et al. In press). To implement effective management and conservation strategies, it is important to know their distribution, abundance and also interactions with other biotic and abiotic elements in their habitat.
In Karnataka, the occurrences of leopards have been documented in PAs and human-dominated habitats. Gubbi et al. (2017) estimated a mean abundance of ~ 300 (SD ± 15.2) leopards in a ~3,170 km2 area comprising of PAs and multiple-use forests in Karnataka. Poaching of prey, vehicular collisions, loss of habitat and human-leopard conflict are the prevailing issues in Karnataka that pose serious threats to leopards (Gubbi et al. 2014; Gubbi et al. 2017). Several known habitats of leopards are yet to be surveyed and their overall distribution has to be estimated which would help in management and resolution of these consistent threats.
In continuation of the previous study (Gubbi et al. 2017), this report provides the first estimates of abundance and density of leopards in Bannerghatta National Park.