Habitat Destruction Bringing Leopards Into Conflict With Humans

Posted on December 13th 2017

Leopard near extinction

Recently a leopard wandered into school building in the Indian state of Assam and ended up mauling four people.  Forest officials think that the leopard was simply seeking somewhere to rest for the night before going hunting for prey. Workers doing some construction work entered the school in the morning and four of them were attacked ending up in hospital with everyone surviving.

Deforestation is a big problem

This disturbing story is basically emblematic of the problem of deforestation in India and what habitat loss means for the relationship between leopards and humans who live on the border of their ecosystem. According to the IUCN Red List leopards are currently classified as being vulnerable. Experts say it’s not the first-time leopards and humans have come into conflict and it most certainly won’t be the last. Unfortunately, as people continue to encroach on forest area, the problem is only going to get worse.

Leopards have no food to eat

The city of Guwahati is the largest city in the North-Eastern Indian state of Assam and is surrounded by 18 hills. The foothills used to be covered by old growth forest but during the 18th century the British planted non-native pine trees instead with the intention of cutting them down. This means there are few places for the leopard to hide and the species is finding it harder and harder to find natural prey to feed on.

Mob mentality takes over

Steve Winter a photographer for National Geographic who spent six months in Assam photographing the species and learning about them says leopards simply have no food. Occasionally one will venture into a village at night time looking for livestock or street dogs but when the sun rises they find they have no way out. When a leopard becomes stuck in the city, it faces the problem of madness and mob mentality of the crowd. In this latest incident, as news spread it became almost impossible for the veterinary team to tranquilise the leopard who grew more agitated as the crowd developed.

Crowds complicate rescue efforts

It took the rescue team about an hour and half and forest officials blame the large gathering of spectators as being the main reason for the delay. Unfortunately, the animal became increasingly stressed and agitated which made the operation much more complicated. According to zoo officials, the leopard was a healthy adult and was successfully tranquilised and transferred to the zoo, but not before sustaining minor injuries received whilst trying to avoid the crowd.

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