Sanjay GubbiAmrita MenonShravan SutharH C Poornesha
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Variation in leopard density and abundance: Multi-year study in Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary

Sanjay Gubbi, Amrita Menon, Shravan Suthar and H.C. Poornesha

The leopard (Panthera pardus) is a geographically widespread member of the Felidae family, and occupies a broad ecological niche from rainforests in the tropics to open grasslands to deserts to islands (Stein et al. 2020). Due to their high tolerance for human pressure and catholic diet, they have adapted to human-dominated landscapes and around large metropolitan cities (Hayward et al. 2006; Athreya et al. 2013; Odden et al. 2014; Bhatia et al. 2013). This also makes them a highly conflict-prone species. Out of the nine discrete populations or subspecies recognised by phylogenetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA sequences and polymorphic microsatellite loci, the one present in India is Panthera pardus fusca (Uphyrkina et al. 2001). Globally, the leopard falls under the ‘Vulnerable’ category as classified by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Stein et al. 2020). At a national level, they are listed as a Schedule 1 species under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 in India, which provides the highest level of protection. In order to observe temporal changes in population sizes, along with baseline population estimates, systematic monitoring of the population during regular intervals needs to be carried out. Systematic long-term monitoring studies help identify spatial and temporal trends in population data (Yoccoz et al. 2001). Variables that contribute to the increasing or decreasing trend can be identified which will either help evaluate the impact of existing management practices or implement new and more effective management practices (CluttonBrock & Sheldon 2010; Campbell et al. 2011; Caro 2011; Henschel & Ray 2015; Ramesh et al. 2017).

Additionally, more detailed insight into population dynamics can be achieved through long-term monitoring of wildlife (Pelton & van Manen 1996). Even though there are a few population studies providing baseline information for leopards from within PAs, other forested and human dominated habitats (Harihar et al. 2009; Athreya et al. 2013; Borah et al. 2014; Gubbi et al. 2017a, 2019b, 2019c, 2020d, 2021a), there is little to no data on long-term monitoring of leopard populations over temporal scales. Such long-term monitoring can also help in conservation management of leopards that are exposed to various threats that include habitat loss and fragmentation, retaliatory killing, vehicular collisions, poaching, depletion of prey and other unconventional threats (Gubbi et al. 2014a; Jacobson et al. 2016; Gubbi et al. 2017a, 2019a, 2021c). This report provides the results of a long-term population monitoring study carried in Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS) in southern Karnataka from 2014 to 2020. The main objectives of the study were

· To estimate baseline population abundance and density of leopards

· To monitor long-term variation in population abundance and density of leopards

· To observe difference in detection rate between male and female leopards

· To establish the Relative Abundance Index (RAI) of prey species.