Today human-wildlife conflict is an issue that has gained a lot of importance globally and nationally. While it negatively affects both humans and wildlife, many of the latter are endangered and threatened. WCS-India’s work with leopards has been on the forefront of this field of knowledge, with its continuous study of not just the ecology of the wildlife, but also how humans react and respond to the presence of the wildlife in human-use landscapes.
The Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) in a human dominated landscape
The leopard project has its origins in a study on the reasons for attacks on humans in a rural landscape in Maharashtra almost two decades ago. Today, it has evolved into a full-fledged program not only using tools such as telemetry and camera trapping but also putting emphasis on the humans that are affected and involved. In line with the WCS vision, we have contributed to the resolution of severe human leopard conflict in the urban landscape of Mumbai, in the areas adjoining Sanjay Gandhi National Park and continue to support the project even today, almost a decade after it’s inception.
SGNP forest merging into the city
Our work also focuses on the human dimension of human-wildlife interactions, trying to understand what affects people's acceptance of the presence of large potentially dangerous wildlife in their landscape. This has called for a collaborative approach with the state Forest Department, the media as well as the citizens in our study area, be it rural or urban. We firmly believe that the identification and involvement of major stakeholders is key to the success of any conservation program.
A leopard captured on a camera-trap
We have collaborated extensively with the forest departments in multiple states, such as Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal on the same issues. Our work has been used in the formulation of guidelines for human-leopard conflict management at the state as well as the central Ministry of Environment and Forests levels.
WCS-India team interacting with village rescue teams and Uttarakhand forest officials at a rescue centre in Manikdoh, Jinnar
In addition to disseminating our learnings and experiences from our work, we have worked extensively with the media across Indian states to increase sensitivity and understanding of the complexities of human-wildlife interactions, and the importance of maintaining the cultural tolerance that we see today. Assessments of the impact our work has had on the nature of media reportage found that media is more than willing to help to ease tensions and ultimately reduce human-leopard conflict.
- Research and conservation of elephants and leopards that share spaces with humans in the tea-garden landscapes of West Bengal
- Research and conservation of leopards in the urban landscape of Mumbai
- Collaborating with conservationists in Uttarakhand (Titli Trust), the Uttarakhand Forest Department and Maharashtra Forest Department to share best practices in conflict resolution
- Using Children Ambassadors to spread awareness about safety measures to be taken by farmers in the cropland landscapes of Pune, Ahmednagar and Nashik districts
- Studying the human-wolf interactions in the semi arid landscapes of Maharashtra and Karnataka
- Studying human-leopard interactions, related to attacks on people by leopards in Himachal Pradesh
- Studying patterns of human-leopard interactions in Punjab
- Studying patterns of human-leopard interactions in Rajasthan
- Studying the social institution of Waghoba, the large cat deity, in Western Maharashtra