Monday, January 30, 2012

Pakistan Leopards: research to study population and find ways for public to coexist

Most of the exotic wild cats still living in the wild are considered threatened or endangered to one degree or another. They are often pressured by a loss of habitat which either pushes them towards starvation or an increase in encounters with people - both of which usually lead to the loss of the animal.

This is true of the leopard found throughout Asia, extending towards the Middle East. However, in Pakistan steps are being to taken to learn more about the current condition of the leopard population and to educate local citizens as to the plight of the leopard, it's role as an important forest predator, and how the leopard and local communities can coexist.

The Pakistan branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Pakistan) has been provided funding from the Humane Welfare and Nature Conservation Society to implement an ambitious program of in-the-field study of the leopard in Ayubia National Park combined with public outreach and education.

In collaboration with the University of Siena, Italy, WWF-Pakistan will conduct tracking studies using satellite collars, diet analysis, and genetic studies, along with camera traps to better determine the extant of the current leopard population within Pakistan. WWF-Pakistan will also be working with a multimedia company to develop a variety of media products, including documentaries, to increase public awareness of the leopard and its role within the Pakistan forest ecology.

No one is sure as to the actual number of leopards in the area, but Uzma Khan, a wildlife biologist and WWF representative for the project, has stated that it “could be as few as four.

“I conducted interviews of local residents in Ayubia and they all believe the population to be in the thousands,” Khan said. "But one leopard looks for prey in an area about 20 to 60 square hectares. So it is quite possible for a single leopard to be spotted at one corner of the park one day and the next corner the very next day. The villagers assume that they are everywhere.”

With the loss of forest habitat due to development and the free-grazing of cattle, there has come a greater number of predations by leopards on cattle - not to mention more encounters and attacks on humans. The new study and the information it disseminates will hopefully make people more understanding of the predicament that the Pakistan people have imposed on the leopard.

This is a situation that is very similar to how African communities are having to find better ways to protect people and livestock from the lions that are being encroached upon. Also, a loss of habitat in Southern California is causing a marked increase in mountain lion encounters - including attacks on joggers and mountain bikers. In all cases, this is the result of the demand for land to accommodate a growing human population. Predators like lions, tigers, and leopards are literally being backed into an ecological and geographical corner and their basic survival instincts are, unfortunately, putting them at odds with human societies.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Wildlife Department is working closely with the WWF-Pakistan in the hopes of developing a national management policy that will ensure the long-term future of the leopard while also protecting livestock and public safety.

Source: The Nation.
Source: The Express Tribune.

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