Sunday, May 29, 2011

Census puts leopards at 1,150, sloth bears at 280

Census puts leopards at 1,150, sloth bears at 280
Times of India By Himanshu Kaushik

The recently concluded wildlife census has pegged the leopards' population at about 1,150 and that of sloth bears at about 280. A sneak peek into the census data from 17 districts in the state showed a rise by nearly 70 to 80 leopards and 30 sloth bears as compared to the 2006 census.

The highest increase in the number of leopards is 10% to 12% in Gir Sanctuary and the nearby Saurashtra region. Officials said there were 310 leopards in Junagadh district and 99 in Amreli district.

This figure of the two districts' leopard population is expected to be around 450 when the results will be declared officially by the department.

The forest department expects the numbers to go up by about 15% after the primary count, as now the data shows a rise of less than 10% of leopard population. However, the 2006 census had revealed there were 147 leopards outside the protected area.

A forest officer said this number has also increased and the number of leopards staying close to human habitat is anywhere between 160 and 170.

Officials said the increase in population speaks of better conservation and less incidents of man-animal conflict. They said be it lion, leopard, black buck or even sloth bear, there was an increase in population.

Experts involved with the census feel the leopards were moving out of the protected area because of the increasing cattle grazing pressure in the forest area.

"The natural habitat of the wildlife is shrinking because of the degradation of the forest. The government's decision to give land to tribals in forest areas has driven away the prey base for the big cats into the open area and this has resulted in the big cats moving out of the sanctuary. The recent incidents of man-leopard conflicts were an indication that the leopards were moving more to densely populated areas," said a senior forest official.

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