The elusive, shy leopard avoids humans but has a special affinity for dogs. The reason? The dog is an easy prey and the feline relishes its meat. This is the reason why the wildcat is increasingly straying into human habitation. It is enticed by the barking of canines.
This was the finding of a year-long study conducted by Himachal Pradesh’s Wildlife Department on a fully grown female leopard that was tracked with the help of a radio collar in a forest near Shimla.
"On a few occasions, this leopard strayed quite near to the habitations but never in direct confrontation with the humans. Its presence, at times, was highly correlated with the presence of dogs in the house or even stray ones," Sandeep Rattan, a veterinary surgeon, who installed the collar in September last year, said.
The barking sounds of a dog always proved to be an attraction for the wildcat, he said. The leopards generally prefer to live in areas close to humans, as these supply prey to them, but avoids confrontation with people.
"The female leopard is also attracted to villages due to small domesticated animals like sheep and goat. But it does not attack humans," said Rattan.
According to him, the leopard generally uses the same trail in the wild as is used by humans and other domesticated animals.
"In the study, we have observed that the leopard prefers to hide near the trail to keep an eye on the domesticated animals," Rattan said.
Its habitat was mainly thick deodar and oak trees and plenty of tall grasses where human interference was minimal. It roamed within a territory of 35 sq km where a number of villages were located.
Chief Wildlife Warden A. K. Gulati said the radio-collared animal helped to know more about its behaviour, reasons for coming closer to households and its natural prey base.
"This was one-of-its-kind study in northern India on the wildcat," he said.
A leopard, which was reported to have been attacking domestic animals in and around Dumi village on the outskirts of Shimla on a regular basis, was trapped and later released after tagging it with a radio collar.
Gulati said on a few occasions, sensing the proximity to humans (wildlife teams), the leopard silently moved away to avoid any sort of direct confrontation.
The radio collar, costing Rs 200,000, was provided to the wildlife wing by Pune-based NGO Waghoba Trust. The NGO is tracking leopards in Maharashtra using the same technology. The radio collar, weighing 1.5 kg, is still sending the signals, though blurred as its battery is running out.
"The magnetic locks of the collar will open any time and it will be retrieved from the forests," he added.
After recharging its batteries, the collar can be installed again on some other animal.
Though the leopard is protected under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, it is occasionally poached for its skin. — IANS