Written by Staff Writer
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This year marks the 100th anniversary of birth of Bengal leopard, a legendary cat famous throughout Asia and around the world for its graceful movements.
One of its greatest champions, the Tata Safari Club of India’s Ranthambore Ranthambore Tiger Reserve has grown from 2,000 members in 1959 to 60,000 in 2012, the year of the reserve’s creation. The sharp-toothed, grey-and-white cats are at risk of extinction in the subcontinent if action is not taken.
Here are five ways leopards are being saved from extinction:
1. Own up to the problem: funding
They once roamed across the plains of South Asia, Asia’s largest mountain ranges, northern Afghanistan and most recently across parts of Southeast Asia.
But these days, leopards live in fewer than a dozen reserve areas, mostly in the jungle and western areas of India. Their habitat is encroaching on increasingly scarce water reserves and inhabiting fresh rainwater sources, putting their continued survival in jeopardy.
“Very little is known about leopards’ prey,” Ravi Singh, wildlife manager at the Ranthambore reserve told CNN. “Even with leopard numbers in steep decline, the government still refuses to recognize the problem as a problem. This makes them unable to find solutions.”
The Tata Safari Club of India, which funds research and management programs, isn’t satisfied. “The tiger population is down, but the leopard population is still doing well. We must find ways to save them,” Singh said.
2. Find opportunities for wild leopards to move about
Despite rising human population, the Tigers Project manages about 150 leopards in the reserve — a process that is essential for the survival of the wild animal.
“We need to admit there are no pure tigers left in the world,” said Ranthambore reserve director Perinam Gupta. “Most of the leopards in Tiger Project India are mixed with dogs in our reserves. Once their mothers die in the wild, it’s almost impossible to move them away, especially in our thick forests. For these, a separation is a must.”
3. Create tiger reserves in remote areas
Part of this process involves creating pockets of leopard habitat in difficult-to-reach areas of eastern India. These reserves can then be used to reintroduce the felines to their birthplace.
4. Move leopards from wild to wild
The Tata Safari Club of India often moves a leopard from an animal park in the forest to one in the wild, in order to prepare them for the tougher lifestyle in a wildlife reserve.
But it has been proving trickier than first thought. “They still escape. They are still put in small enclosures so they can become accustomed to human interaction. And the toughest part is to maintain contact with them for the next five or six years, because every time they escape the need to be near them again becomes one of their greatest threats,” said Gupta.
5. Protect forests, end poaching and restore habitat