With the increased expansion of human populations into wildlife territory, a deeper understanding of human-wildlife conflict is of utmost 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 in this field of knowledge, with its continuous study of not just the ecology of the wildlife, but also the human response to wildlife in human use landscapes.
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 program that uses tools such as telemetry and camera trapping, but also seeks to place a greater 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 areas adjoining the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in the urban landscape of Mumbai, and continue to support the project today, almost a decade after its inception.
Our work has evolved from being wildlife-centric to focusing equally on the human dimension of human-wildlife interactions, in an attempt to understand what influences people’s acceptance of the presence of large and potentially dangerous wildlife in their landscape. This has called for a collaborative approach with state Forest Departments, the media as well as the citizens in our study areas, be it rural or urban. We firmly believe that the identification and involvement of major stakeholders is key to the success of a conservation programme.
We have collaborated 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 Central Ministry of Environment and Forests level.
In addition to disseminating our learnings and experiences from our work in Mumbai, 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 they are more than willing to help in order 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 (Nikit Surve and team).
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