A tryst with the leopards of agricultural landscape
Leopards are amongst the most adaptable cats amongst the “Big Cats”. Out of three species of leopards, the Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) is the most common and well distributed. The first ever formal leopard census was conducted in 2016, pegging the count at 12000 – 14000 leopards. Nowadays, leopards have adapted to a new habitat which is India’s agricultural landscape. The population of leopards is increasing continuously in agricultural landscapes across the country.
Being a wildlife enthusiast I was always curious to learn about leopards. One fine day my friend Kaushal Mody informed me that his father had seen leopards in his farm many times over the past few days. This was at a village called “Velachha” which is around 60 kilometers from Surat. Here, Kaushal owned a small farm of 3 hectares. Kaushal, like me is a wildlife enthusiast and he was gung ho about the news! We decided to document this leopard as it was sighted in my friend’s farm, and planned to do so without disturbing the beast. So we agreed upon the best way to document this creature being the “Camera Trap” method. Kaushal and I visited the farm to check pug marks and scat. We got many pugmarks in the farm, so we followed them and found the routes it regularly used. The next step was to set up the camera trap. I had been working as a project coordinator in the Nature Club of Surat and had used camera trapping for certain other projects. Armed with this prior knowledge, I brought one Infrared Camera Trap from my office and fixed it in the farm. For few days we were not able to record anything and were not getting any signs of the leopard’s presence. Finally, one day Kaushal informed me that the camera trap had recorded leopard images and videos. I was eager to see the video. The next day, I met Kaushal and saw the images and videos. A beautiful spotted cat was sitting in front of the camera and curiously looking at and checking out the camera.
In the video, we saw a male leopard licking the camera trap. Now we decided to follow this leopard by its indirect signs such as pug marks and scat.
So we took data of its pugmarks and after following these reached a narrow passage leading up to the sugarcane farm. We fixed our camera along that route.
Kaushal invested a significant part of his time and effort, being based in the location itself. He started setting up the camera trap daily and we got lots of data. One day he informed me that the leopard had killed a dog near his neighbor’s house and brought it to the farm. Kaushal observed the dog carcass and found that the leopard had eaten some part of the dog and left the carcass as is.
We decided not to move the dog carcass away from where the leopard had left it, and set up the camera near it.
Our observation and efforts paid off! On that night we were lucky to get images and video of the leopard feeding on the dog carcass.
Later on, we got to know that this leopard was living in a sugarcane farm next to Kaushal’s farm. After a few days we saw some pugmarks but these appeared to be different ones. Our experience told us that these pug marks belonged to a female leopard. This was indeed interesting- a male and female leopard roaming about a small three hectare farm together! This could not be a mere coincidence! We thought we might get some interesting footage if we set up our camera properly. But since we had only one camera trap, it was really tough for us to choose a specific place to document both the male and the female leopard together. We decided to fix the camera trap at one point where the pugmarks of both male and female leopards were found together. The first day, neither leopard came close to the camera. The next day we got our first image where the male leopard was approaching the female leopard.
And voila! The next few minutes we could see the leopards mating! Our camera trap recorded a video of the leopards mating.
The next day we fixed the camera at the same point and got a footage in which a porcupine was charging on the leopard before mating and during mating.
The leopard couple continued to mate for around 6-7 days in Kaushal’s farm. After this mating period the female left Kaushal’s Farm. Now we still continue to get male leopard indirect signs in the farm, but it is not a regular phenomenon.
All this documentation was done using just one camera trap, that too in an agricultural landscape. It was indeed a great experience to capture this Big Cat so up, close and personal. Kaushal and I are thankful to the Nature Club of Surat for providing the camera trap to us. We would like to extend our gratitude to Dr. Raju Vyas, Mr. Snehal Patel, Mr. Devvratsinh Mori & Mr. Parimal Patel for their guidance during documentation.
Credit: Krunal Trivedi