A recent paper in PLoS ONE by Vidya Athreya et al., used an innovative method to examine Leopard populations in the Indian state of Karnataka. They searched local media sources for any mentioned leopard-human incidents and applied modelling methods to draw conclusions. Their data showed that ""leopards occupied around 84,000 km2 or 47% of the State’s geographic area, outside designated national parks and wildlife sanctuaries". Their success outside of protected areas was concluded to be due to "vegetative cover- including irrigated croplands, rocky escarpments, and prey base in the form of feral and free-ranging dogs". The authors estimate that stray dogs actually represent ~40% of the leopards diet. I have always heard the jokes about dogs being the reason why leopards thrive in Mumbai, but I did not know it was a wide spread phenomenon.  The paper also "establish[ed] the presence of resident, breeding leopards in human-use areas" in Karnataka.  Vidya Atreya, the lead researcher tells The Hindu in a an interview "this shows that leopards occur across large parts of the State and can live close to human beings without serious conflict if we proactively deal with their presence. Making people aware of them and helping them reduce livestock losses can go a long way" [to reducing conflict]. 

As a scientist, the methodology of this paper is interesting, as to manually collect this data would have taken a lot of man hours. As a photographer I particularly like the following map, showing you the distribution of leopards per region. This is the kind of information that helps us choose locations for particular subjects. 

Distribution patterns of leopards in Karnataka. Spatial distribution of leopards outside protected reserves of Karnataka, based on analysis of media reports. The maps show sub-district-level estimates of (a) naive occupancy [detected at least once], (b) detection probabilities [probability of 1 individual being detected], and (c) probabilities of occupancy [probability that they are in that region]. Protected reserves have been clipped out from the predicted probability maps.

This distribution is very interesting, especially when you consider where the main population centres are in Karnataka. Here is a previous post I published on my animal-human conflictsLeopards being one of them.

Just for your reference, Karnataka is approximately the same size and population of the UK, ~65 million. Bangalore being the capital of Karnataka is most populated with ~10 million, and also sports an interesting detection and occupancy probability. Since I live in Bangalore at the moment, I guess I will be keeping my eyes peeled and camera ready in town now too! ;)

I recommend reading the paper in full, as it has a lot of additional information I have not covered here including more on conflict occurrences and solutions. This is an open access paper, so check it out yourself!

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