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A new study published in the journal of Global Ecology and Biogeography reveals that the leopard (Panthera pardus) is vulnerable to roadkill and faces an 83% increased risk of extinction in North India due to roadkill. The study attempts to find the vulnerability of several species including leopard to extinction due to roadkill and further goes on to estimate the time to extinction for leopards in North India.

The researchers conducted the study based upon the roadkill data for 392 mammal species on six continents. The study factored in variables like Population density, roadkill rates, sexual maturity age, litter size etc. to calculate the risk to species. Out of these 392 species, four groups made it to the top in terms of increased risk of becoming extinct due to roadkill.

Species Location Probability of Extinction Estimated time to Extinction
LeopardNorth India83%33 years
Maned WolfBrazil34%30 years
Little spotted catBrazil0-75%0-36 years
Brown HyenaSouthern Africa3-100%0-21 years
Source – Grilo et al, Global Ecology and Biogeography

Don’t be scared to see that 0 in the last column, they are not getting extinct tomorrow. It simply means that if the probability of extinction due to roadkill is 0 then they will most likely not get extinct anytime soon. But that explicitly tells us the level of threat, roadkill poses to these species.

Through this study, the researchers draw much-needed attention to careful consideration, development, and planning of roads and call for the adoption of proper mitigation measures in road development.

leopard vulnerable to roadkill. A leopard being taken for medical care.
Leopard roadkill on main road being taken for post-mortem in the Anamalai hills, India – T. R. Shankar Raman

IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) also recognizes roadkill as a major threat to 10 mammalian species. But Panthera pardus is not one of them according to IUCN. Strangely enough, the study reveals that the 10 species that IUCN includes in the list are not among those found to be most vulnerable.

Leopard Population In India: Recent Estimates

A report titled “Status of Leopard In India 2018” released in 2018 by Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, reveals that the population of leopards in India could be anywhere from 12,172 to 13,535 individuals. The researchers estimated the population of Leopards in the tiger habitat of India where they used ‘Occupancy surveys’ to determine the presence of leopards in areas. They conducted the census in 3 phases using methods of Individual identification by camera trap, and Abundance estimation through SECR (Spatially Explicit Capture and Recapture). These methods allowed the researchers to peg the Indian leopard population at 12,852 individuals in 3,475 grids across India.

The report also shows that India has witnessed an increase of about 63% in the leopard population since 2014. While the numbers are encouraging enough, we still cannot ignore the warnings that we are receiving in form of scientific studies. The leopard population is vulnerable more than ever due to increased habitat destruction and fragmentation in recent decades. As the land-use changes, they are at the forefront of man-animal conflicts in certain parts of India.

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