Leopard numbers up 15-20%
Times of India
A preliminary count arrived at the three-day leopard census which began on Monday has shown that big cats have been well conserved in Gujarat. The initial trends indicated an increase of about 15-20 per cent in the leopard population in the state.
This census might throw up some surprises too. Forest officials said that there are indications to suggest that leopards have thrived close to areas occupied by humans.
A senior forest official said that the recent incidents of man-leopard conflicts were an indication that the leopard is now moving more into densely populated areas.
However, there is not much of increase in the number of sloth bears. The 2006 census had revealed that there were 1070 leopards and 247 sloth bears in the state.
The census is being conducted over 17 districts. Specific areas have been identified by forest officials.
Forest department officials said that during the lion census too, they had carried out a similar count which had thrown up a near-perfect data, which was echoed after the final count was complete and it was proven that Gujarat has no less than 411 Asiatic lions.
Officials in the forest department said prior to conducting the census, the forest department officials take an estimate. This estimate is taken to ascertain the area to be covered for the census. During this initial estimation, a head-count is also taken. The sources said that the leopard population has shown a satisfactory growth. Forest officials said that the increase in leopard population is uniform across the state.
Forest Officials said that in Saurashtra, especially in Gir sanctuary and nearby areas, an increase of 10-15 per cent in leopard population has been recorded. Forest officials said leopards were spotted more near sugar cane fields, outside protected areas. This, they said, have turned out to be the new home for these big cats.
Sugarcane fields are now more like isolation zones for the big cats and hence these fields have turned into breeding grounds.
Experts involved with the census feel that the leopards are moving out of the protected area because of various factors like increasing presence of cattle that graze in the forest area.
Another senior official from the department said that the natural habitat of wildlife was shrinking because of the denudation of the forest.
The state government`s decision to allot land to adivasis in the forest areas has also driven away the prey base for the big cats into the open area and this has resulted in big cats moving out of the sanctuary.
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