Leopard (Panthera pardus) is the most widely distributed and adaptable member of the family Felidae. L
The Indian subspecies, Panthera pardus fusca, is found in all forested habitats in the country, absent only in the arid deserts and above the timber line in the Himalayas (Prater 1980, Daniel 1996). In the Himalayas they are sympatric with snow leopards (Panthera uncia) upto 5,200 m (Uphyrkina et al. 2001).
Leopards are quite adaptable with respect to habitat and food requirements, being found in intensively cultivated and inhabited areas as well as near urban developments (Nowell and Jackson 1996). They are prolific breeders and are known to grow at an annual rate of over 10% from central India (Kumar et al. 2019).
Leopards are widely distributed species and in comparison to other large carnivores have been able to survive better in an increasingly human dominated landscape, largely due to its adaptable behaviour and due to protection. Leopards serve as apex predators in most of the forested landscapes in India, beyond the realm of tiger and lion. While leopards have been persecuted historically, we find them evoking a negative response in large parts of country due to negative interactions with humans all the more today
Among all the subspecies, Indian leopard retains the largest population size and range outside Africa (Jacobson et al. 2016). In Indian subcontinent poaching, habitat loss, depletion of natural prey and conflict are major threats to leopard populations (Athreya et al. 2010, Raza et al. 2012). Leopards also frequently occur outside protected areas in human dominated landscapes, increasing their vulnerability to conflict with humans (Rahalkar 2008, Athreya et al. 2010, Naha et al. 2018).
All these have resulted in changing the species status from ‘Near Threatened’ to ‘Vulnerable’ by IUCN (Stein et al. 2016). It is also listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 in India providing it with the highest level of protection. Despite decreasing numbers and range, their ubiquitous presence across human habitations leads to misconceptions regarding their current abundance. In areas devoid of any other large carnivore, leopards can act as an umbrella species for biodiversity conservation.
During all India tiger estimation 2018, leopard population was also estimated within the forested habitats in tiger occupied states.
The forests of Central Indian landscape harbours the largest population of leopards in its fragmented forest patches.
India's world record tiger survey also estimated the population of leopards and the tiger range was found home to 12,852 (12,172-13,535) leopards. They occur in prey rich protected areas as well as multi-use forests.A total of 5,240 adult individual leopards were identified in a total of 51,337 leopard photographs using pattern recognition software. Statistical analysis estimates the leopard population at - 12,800 leopards within the tiger's range.
India now has 12,852 leopards as compared to the previous estimate of 7910 conducted 2014. More than 60% increase in population has been recorded. The States of Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra recorded the highest leopard estimates at 3,421, 1,783 and 1,690 respectively.
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