The Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), once widely distributed across the Indian subcontinent, has in recent years come under threat. Due to a variety of factors including but not limited to habitat encroachment and poaching, they are becoming increasingly rare outside the bounds of designated nature preserves and protected areas. Males average between 4 ft 2 in (127 cm) and 4 ft 8 in (142 cm) in length and weigh between 110 and 170 lb (50 and 77 kg). Females are slightly smaller averaging between 3 ft 5 in (104 cm) and 3 ft 10 in (117 cm) in length and weigh between 64 and 75 lb (29 and 34 kg). Their beauty and agility makes them the Prince of the forest, if the Tiger is the King.
Leopards have inhabited the areas surrounding Maharashtra since time immemorial as an integral part of the landscape. Until recently, when their habitat, consisting primarily of scrub jungle abundant with small prey, started to be destroyed by development. What was once a leopard haven, has now changed drastically since the Government began to provide financial incentives to encourage sugar cane cultivation in these areas.
Rapid deforestation was the consequence of creating sugar cane fields, leaving the leopards with little option but to adapt to the changing landscape. With a shrinking forested habitat remaining for foraging, hiding and to live in, they moved into the sugar cane fields. Female leopards have begun to give birth in the tall sugar cane crops. The height of the plants provides the most suitable cover for a mother to conceal and protect her cubs from predators. Sadly, cub season coincides with the sugar cane harvesting season and protective mother leopards will attack if people come near their young. Naturally this causes public anxiety and a tense man-animal conflict situation. Worried villagers call for the Forest Department to trap and remove the leopards even if no dangerous incidents have occurred. Historically, some of these captured Leopards were released back into the wild and others, particularly those with a history of attacking people, were left in solitary confinement mostly in cages the size of small dining tables, for the rest of their lives. Public resistance to re-release, put pressure on government offices with few resources, to explore more humane options for the cats. .
In 2007, Wildlife SOS partnered with the Government to expand an already existing Leopard Rescue Center at Junnar near Pune, to address the emotional and logistical needs of India’s leopards. Today, 27 Leopards enjoy atleast an outside enclosure.
Wildlife SOS also reaches out to local communities to increase understanding about leopards. The goal is to help people co-exist with leopards with increased tolerance, and to diminish fears that have manifested due to ignorance and misconceptions about these magnificent cats. Our vets have been conducting awareness sessions in schools, colleges, forums for environment awareness with the objective of educating people about leopards and their behaviour leading to better understanding and tolerance and reducing incidence of conflict situations.