Leopards face threat of snares in Karnataka

A majority of incidences occurred in areas densely populated by people, such as plantations and farmlands

Snares have emerged as a major threat to leopards in human-dominated landscapes in the State.

As many as 113 snaring incidents involving leopards were recorded between 2009 and 2020 of which 67 leopards accounting for 59.3 per cent of such cases, died.

Of the 30 districts in the State a majority of snaring were reported from Dakshina Kannada (15 per cent) followed by Mysuru (14.2 per cent), Chikkmagaluru and Udupi (11.5 per cent each), Hassan (10.6 per cent), Tumakuru and Ramanagaram (7.1 percent each).

These are as per a new study by Sanjay Gubbi, Aparna Kolekar and Vijaya Kumara who published their findings in a paper titled ‘Quantifying wire snares as a threat to Leopards in Karnataka, India.’

It was published in the journal Tropical Conservation Science and Mr. Gubbi, the lead author, said though leopards are widely found in human-dominated landscapes including small forest patches, arecanut plantations, and maize and sugarcane fields and they face a higher threat in such habitats.

The study evaluated the number of leopards captured in snares and the mortality of leopards due to snares during a period of 12 years (2009-2020) in Karnataka. Most snares (97.5%) were set to catch wild prey, specifically wild pigs, highlighting leopards – a non-target species – as a ‘bycatch’ as farmers tried to protect crops from wild herbivores.

Nearly 50% of the snaring incidents occurred during monsoons when farmers tend to put extra efforts to protect their farms against crop-raiding wild ungulates which may be the reason for a higher number of leopards getting caught in snares during monsoons, according to the authors of the study.

A majority of snare incidences occurred in areas densely populated by people like plantations and farmlands and accounted for 54.7 per cent, followed by unprotected forests (21.4%), and then in reserved/state forests (14.3%). The least incidences occurred within protected areas (national parks/wildlife sanctuaries/tiger reserves/conservation reserves, 9.5%).

The study also indicated that the number of snaring incidences was high in areas that crossed a human population density of 225 people/square kilometre.

Mr. Sanjay Gubbi said though the death of nearly 6 leopards per year due to snares may not look very significant, it is much higher compared to other unnatural mortalities such as vehicular collisions (4.6 leopards/year) or 3.6 leopards/year due to retaliatory actions such as poisoning, and less than 1 leopard per year due to falling in open wells as demonstrated in other studies.

The authors called for greater protection against poaching especially outside protected areas and underlined the importance of reducing human-wildlife conflict as it has an indirect bearing on leopards. Mr. Gubbi said conservation outreach to reduce mortality of leopards due to snares should also be increased as such activities could possibly help sloth bears and striped hyenas. Their territories overlap with leopards and face similar challenges.

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