Leopards and humans peacefully share the same densely populated rural landscape in western India, a new camera trap survey shows.
The cameras caught leopards and other jungle cats, as well as hyenas and jackals, prowling close to houses through the night in farmland in western Maharashtra, India. The carnivores and people shared the same paths — so much so that the researchers had to turn off their camera traps during the day because of the human and livestock traffic.
Yet the leopards went largely undetected by people, according to a statement from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which helped fund the study.
"Human attacks by leopards were rare despite a potentially volatile situation considering that the leopard has been involved in serious conflict, including human deaths in adjoining areas," Ullas Karanth of the WCS, a study co-author, said in the statement. "The results of our work push the frontiers of our understanding of the adaptability of both humans and wildlife to each other's presence."
The findings were published online March 6 in the journal PLOS One.
The camera traps documented 10 large carnivores per 38 square miles (100 square kilometers) in the densely populated area — five leopards and five hyenas. The human population density is more than 300 people per 38 square miles. [Images: Backyard Leopards Caught on Camera]
The discovery of so many large carnivores living in proximity to people highlights the need to focus on conservation outside of protected areas, the researchers said.
The farming-intensive landscape lacks wilderness and wild herbivores for prey, and the region has only one protected area for wildlife, the Kalsubai Harishchandragarh Wildlife Sanctuary, the researchers said.