Leopard population down by 75-90%

The leopard population has declined 75-90 per cent in India, according to a study which has suggested that this carnivore demands conservation attention similar to tigers in the country. The research was conducted by scientists of Centre for Wildlife Studies and Wildlife Institute of India. They used genetic data from leopards sampled across the Indian subcontinent to investigate population structures and patterns of demographic decline, a press release said.

They investigated the demographic history of each identified sub-populations and compared genetic decline analyses with countrywide local extinction probabilities. The study was conducted by Supriya Bhatt, Suvankar Biswas, Dr Bivash Pandav, Dr Samrat Mondol (all from Wildlife Institute of India) and Dr Krithi K Karanth (Centre for Wildlife Studies).

They collected faecal samples and identified 56 unique individuals using a panel of 13 microsatellite markers, and merged this data with already available 143 leopard individuals.

“Coalescent simulations with microsatellite loci revealed, across India, a possibly human-induced 75-90 per cent population decline between approximately 120-200 years ago,” it said. The population-specific estimates of genetic decline are in concordance with ecological estimates of local extinction probabilities in these sub-populations, it was stated.

“Our results are both interesting and alarming — using two different methodological approaches we have established that even one most adaptable big cats in India has experienced decline in population structure and distribution,” Karanth, chief conservation scientist at Bengaluru-based CWS, said.

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