Don't panic if you see a leopard in your backyard - it's just a big, mottled pussycat, new research shows.
Leopards in human habitations needn't always have strayed in or be in conflict with humans. A pioneering GPS-based study of leopards in India has found that they have strategies to thrive in human habitations.
Five leopards, three of them females, perceived as problem animals, were captured from human habitations and radio-collared to collect data. Four were from the Nashik district of Maharashtra, and one from Himachal Pradesh.
While one couple was translocated and released over 50km away, the other three were released near their site of capture. Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, Bengaluru monitored their activities for a year, recording their behavior - which included strategies to avoid direct contact with people.
"Two leopards actually lived in towns, in high human-density areas without any forest land in the vicinity. They ate stray dogs and domestic animals and never came into conflict with humans," said Vidya Athreya, senior research fellow, WCS. Two females even gave birth to cubs during the course of the study.
These leopards avoided humans - they hardly moved during the day and came very close to human homes without people even being aware of their presence. "It would be fair to call it shared space, not co-existence of humans with leopards, as the former is unaware of the latter's presence around them," she said.
Scientists from Norway (Morten Odden from Hedmark University College and John Linnell from Norwegian Institute for Nature Research), along with Sandeep Rattan (Himachal Pradesh Forest Department), the Maharashtra forest department, and the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation were part of the study.
"The animals applied tactics to avoid encountering people, despite dependence on their resources. Their night movement gave them access to people's livestock, keeping them safe from people at the same time," note scientists.