Livestock killing by mammalian carnivores is one of the most frequent sources of conflict between humans and wildlife throughout the world and is particularly common in and around reserves in the developing world. Worldwide, Leopards are among the few feline species with the highest levels of conflict.
The Machiara region is known for its rich wildlife diversity, and until 1947 its forests were preserved as a hunting reserve for the Maharaja of Kashmir. In 1996, the Machiara Wildlife Sanctuary was upgraded to a National Park covering an area of 13,532 ha. Situated at 34º31'N latitude and 73º37'E longitude within the Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, its altitude ranges between 1,350 and 5,000 m above sea level. Carnivores in the study area include Leopard, Leopard cat, Asiatic black bear, golden jackal and red fox.
There are about 29,680 people living in 30 villages around the protected area. Cattle are the most abundant livestock (43%) followed by goats (31%), sheep (18%), buffalos (6%), and equines such as horses, mules and donkeys (2%).
We interviewed 173 people from the Machiara National Park (MNP) between June 2007 and August 2008. The interviewees included farmers, labourers, government employees, shopkeepers and drivers. Most families (51%) comprised four to five members. A majority (39%) of the respondents had between six and ten livestock heads.
During the study, 301 livestock were reported to have been killed by Leopards in the MNP. Most livestock were killed in the Machiara study site (44.52%, marked by ), followed by Behri (32.89%, marked by ) and Sarli Sacha (22.59%, marked by ). Leopards depredated on livestock throughout the year, with 29.9% of all cases occurring in May, followed by July (10.96%), June (10.73%), and August (9.97%). Most livestock were killed at night (58.8%), at sunrise (18.27%), sunset (12.29%), and during daytime (10.29%). Goats (42.52%) were the most depredated livestock species, followed by dogs (26.25%) and sheep (23.59%).
Leopard kills were correlated with the terrain of the study sites. Most kills were made in the valleys (44.85%), followed by steep slopes (26.57%), gradual slopes (22.25%), and flat areas (6.31%). Our analysis of herding practices revealed that most livestock were guarded by a shepherd and a dog (47.5%) followed by dogs only (39.2%). A small proportion of herders (12.62%) did not employ any herding practices. We found that maximum kills were recorded in the summer pastures (39.86%) followed by forest (29.23%), agricultural land (23.58%) and inside corrals (7.3%). About 44.85% of the depredated livestock were killed more than one km away from the nearest forest.
In summer, when snow melts, people make their ways to the pastures and lush forests in the park's core zone, where well-structured pens or shelters for livestock are lacking. During this period, livestock is grazed for a maximum time in the forest and pasture, explaining why the peak in Leopard attacks occurred during this season. In winter, herders abandon these thick forests and pastures because of snowfall. During the winter months, the Leopard's natural prey becomes more abundant in the study area due to less disturbance by local villagers. Heavy snowfall at higher elevations force the prey species such as the Himalayan ibex, musk deer and gray goral to descend.
In MNP, households generally lack proper corrals for their livestock at night. There was a significant effect of the night time protection measures on depredation.
Livestock are persistently encroaching on the edges of reserves and sometimes several kilometers inside, which make them vulnerable to depredation. Night killings occurred mostly in open places where the livestock are not fully secure and no artificial lighting was present. It is therefore not surprising that livestock in villages were particularly vulnerable at night, as they were often left unattended and in poorly constructed pens.
The livestock guarding strategies used around MNP were shown to be ineffective. Improving livestock corrals and increasing protective measures at night and in the grazing fields during the summer are recommended for reducing livestock losses. Limiting the use of open rangeland by young, subadults or lactating females removes vulnerable livestock from the access of Leopards.
An earthquake in the region in 2005 caused losses to people and livestock and corresponded with less frequent reports of Leopard conflict. The increase in human–Leopard conflict is likely due to the greater resilience and adaptability of Leopards compared to other carnivores, which allow them to live successfully close to human habitats. Leopards in the MNP suffer not only from the significant habitat loss but also from the decline in their prey species within the habitat that remains. Leopards then move into more marginal habitats, finding easy prey in domestic livestock. The local community is heavily dependent on their livestock for subsistence and income, and therefore, when livestock predation occurs, Leopards are usually killed in retaliation. These killings are a significant threat to the survival of Leopards in MNP.
During the study period, four instances of retaliatory killing of Leopards were reported. Local communities in the MNP perceived Leopard as the major livestock predator. The majority (90%) of the respondents did not believe that Leopards are useful animals, and wanted to eliminate the Leopard from the forest. 10% had no objection to their existence in the forest as long as they did not approach human settlements.
Intensive educational programs alongside with reduction of livestock loss to Leopards are needed urgently in the area to reduce the risk of extinction of this species. In the short term, a ban on transient grazers entering the park and on grazing in the "predation hotspots" will reduce encounter rates between livestock and Leopards. Sustainable and culturally acceptable conservation solutions are required for reducing the threats to Leopard and lowering the losses by local communities in Kashmir.
See also this newspaper article about Leopards in Pakistan:
27 January 2014 – Illegal hunting – Leopards now threatened species
Another Leopard was killed in Thorar, Poonch District of Azad Jammu and Kashmir by local people.
There was no evidence of livestock depredation or attack on people. A single person sighted the Leopard and informed the community. They all gathered to kill the Leopard.
There is no wildlife staff in that area, and a severe lack of awareness among local people who consider it their duty to kill a Leopard whenever they sight one.