- Common leopards in Nepal face unprecedented threats, often making headlines for attacking people and livestock, leading to instances where local authorities resort to shooting them down.
- Conservationists express concerns about the transmission of canine distemper from feral dogs to wildlife, including leopards and tigers, emphasizing the virus’s proliferation among wildlife populations.
- A study suggests that adopting predator-proofing practices for livestock can mitigate human-leopard conflicts, identifying livestock and human density, along with rugged terrain, as key drivers of leopard attacks.
KATHMANDU — Think of big cats in Nepal, and the majestic tiger likely springs to mind, or maybe even the elusive snow leopard. But Nepal is also home to a third big cat: the common leopard (Panthera pardus). Unlike its more celebrated brethren, however, the leopard often gets a bad rap, especially in Nepal’s middle hill country, for attacking people and livestock. The species is perhaps one of the most persecuted animals in the country, with even some local administrations killing what they consider problem leopards.
Migration patterns have exacerbated rates of human-leopard conflict. In addition, the species faces the prospect of a catfight with the other two big cats, as a changing climate threatens to push both tigers (Panthera tigris) and leopards further uphill and into snow leopard (Panthera uncia) territory.
In 2023, Mongabay looked at the various different dimensions of leopard conservation and the threats the species faces in Nepal. Here are the top five leopard stories of the past year.
In January, Mongabay reported on a study unveiling a noteworthy revelation: leopards in Nepal are now susceptible to the canine distemper virus. This development also suggested a potential behavioral impact, as some researchers held that the virus could mitigate the innate fear leopards have of humans. Consequently, there’s a heightened likelihood that leopards may venture more frequently into human settlements in search of food.
Conservationists have persistently stressed the potential threat posed by feral dogs to Nepal’s wildlife, emphasizing the transmission of diseases such as canine distemper.
Although the initial transmission may have originated from dogs, various strains of the virus are now proliferating within the wildlife population, rendering them carriers as well.
In January, Mongabay reported on the findings of a study suggesting that the impacts of climate change are poised to transform higher-elevation regions of Nepal into suitable habitats for leopards. This shift could escalate conflicts between these big cats and humans, heightening competition with snow leopards in the process.
The majority of both existing and prospective habitats are projected to lie outside protected areas, presenting a concerning scenario. Additionally, the leopards may face challenges as their preferred prey might not be readily available in these areas, potentially leading them to turn to livestock for sustenance.
However, this discovery also points to an opportunity to proactively conserve leopards within their potential new habitats. This can be achieved through community education initiatives, ensuring the availability of natural prey, and the formulation of comprehensive wildlife management plans. By implementing these measures, there’s a potential to mitigate conflicts and foster coexistence between leopards and local communities in the evolving landscape, conservationists say.
The escalating threat of a warming climate is poised to bring Nepal’s three prominent big cat species — tigers, leopards and snow leopards — into closer proximity, introducing uncertainties regarding the survival prospects of each. Traditionally, it’s been understood that tigers dominate the southern plains, leopards inhabit the mid-country hill region, and snow leopards are confined to the Himalayas.
However, recent observations have challenged this conventional wisdom, as both tigers and leopards have been spotted at elevations surpassing 3,000 meters (9,800 feet), well within the typically recognized territory of snow leopards. Conservationists acknowledge this as a potential shift but emphasize that tigers might face challenges persisting at such high altitudes over the long term.
The situation is further complicated by human activity, as settlements are also ascending in altitude in pursuit of more favorable conditions. This concurrent movement of human settlements adds a fourth apex predator — humans — into the mix, presenting complex challenges for conservation and coexistence efforts.
Nepali researchers captured images of a snow leopard and a common leopard sharing the same location within the Gaurishankar Conservation Area, providing further evidence of habitat overlap between these two species. The images, recently scrutinized, were obtained through camera traps at an elevation of 4,260 meters (13,980 feet) in January 2023.
These findings raise concerns about the potential consequences of climate change on the dynamics between snow leopards and common leopards. As the latter species migrates upslope in pursuit of suitable habitat and prey, it’s anticipated to encroach upon the traditional territory of the former. Researchers posit that climate change is likely to elevate interactions between these leopards, presenting a complex ecological challenge.
The researchers also highlight the potential threat posed to snow leopards, which are comparatively smaller and less agile than their common counterparts. More comprehensive, long-term data and research is urgently needed to understand the nuanced impacts of climate change on both species and to formulate informed conservation strategies to safeguard their habitats, conservationists say.
A study indicates that the implementation of predator-proofing practices for livestock holds the potential to diminish human-leopard conflicts, fostering mutual benefits for both human communities and leopard populations. The study identified three primary factors contributing to leopard attacks on humans: livestock and human population densities, as well as the rugged terrain of the region. It proposed targeted measures to address these factors at the municipal level.
The suggested strategies involve the adoption of predator-proof husbandry practices, the regular monitoring of hotspot areas where leopards are known to be present, and the raising public awareness regarding the potential risks of leopard attacks. By incorporating these measures, the study envisions a reduction in conflicts between humans and leopards, highlighting the importance of proactive, community-based approaches to coexistence.
Banner image: A leopard found in a human settlement being rescued. Image courtesy of NTNC
Abhaya Raj Joshi is a staff writer for Nepal at Mongabay. Find him on Twitter @arj272.
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