Guidelines to reduce human and big cat conflict

Please note:  This page is primarily focused on human – leopard conflict mitigation but also pertains to tiger.  Our guidelines are currently being updated based on our ground work mainly in western Nepal and northern India which together form a human – big cat conflict hotspot.  Relevant material is currently being translated into local languages as part of online development.  On the ground workshops are ongoing providing reference points to online material.

The leopard is under more pressure than ever before to share territory with humans.  In areas where panthera pardus is the apex predator there is often the problem of reduced prey base and habitat squeeze due to encroachment because of development as well as farming and industry.  The leopard also has territorial pressure in places it shares with other big cats (lions and tigers) which are fragmented which can eventuate in leopards being pushed to fringe areas.  In these situations leopards are often forced to prey on livestock and this dynamic can also result in attacks on humans.

To mitigate and prevent conflict the following guidelines are part of an overall strategy guide we are developing (please note: these strategies can in most instances also be applied to human and tiger coexistence):

  • Sustain natural prey bases – In situations where human habitats share forest areas with carnivores such as the leopard conflict can be reduced significantly if the natural prey is maintained.  It is well known that in most cases where serious conflict occurs (repeated attacks on humans and livestock) there is the correlation of low natural prey base.  This is often the result of poaching and other disturbance.  Prey base maintenance reduces the need for hungry leopards to leave forest areas to hunt.
  • Monitor and protect livestock – Inadequate corralling or shed facilities give opportunities for leopards to take an easy meal.  Well maintained night (the leopard’s main hunting time) facilities are essential to protect livestock.  During daytime grazing periods in forest or areas adjoining forests, attacks are reduced if human presence is maintained as leopards and other carnivores become much more wary if people are around.
  • Human movement in forest areas – Late afternoons, nights and early mornings are the times when attacks on humans by leopards are most likely to occur, coinciding with optimum hunting behavior traits of big cats.  It is important to limit human movement in forests during these times.  Monitoring of big cat movement during daytime can also give indications of likelihood of attacks as leopards and tigers will sometimes use daylight hours to travel between hunting grounds.  It is advised to never walk alone in forest areas where big cats live and when in groups to talk at a moderate normal level so as to alert big cats of human presence but not startle tigers and leopards which will often allow groups of humans to pass by even though in close proximity.
  • Encounterating a big cat – Encounters with leopards (and tigers) are on the increase due to the increased pressure of shared space.  Big cats are naturally wary of people but will attack if they feel threatened.  Often a big cat will give a warning growl even before they are seen, at which time it is important not to get closer to the place where the noise came from.  When there is a visual encounter with a big cat it is important to allow the animal as much space as possible and in most cases it will simply leave the area.  If the leopard or tiger stands its ground it is strongly advised to back away slowly and avoid any path which could mean getting closer to the big cat.  In the event of the big cat charging it may be that the animal is trying to deter the person(s) from coming closer resulting in a mock charge but it should be considered a dangerous situation and strategies such as the group or individual making loud noise and appearing as big as possible can be effective.  If the charge results in physical contact then hitting the animal in the eyes or on the nose may force the leopard or tiger to stop attacking.  An important note is to take extra vigilance if the big cat is a female with cubs as these animals are highly sensitive regarding their territory and defending their young.  A leopard or tiger with offspring should never be approached.
  • When a leopard (or tiger) enters human habitat – The frequency with which leopards enter village areas in search of food is increasing.  Leopards (and sometimes tigers) will prey on dogs and domestic livestock if given the opportunity and can be a danger to humans.  The best solution is to give these cats as little opportunity as possible to hunt in areas where humans live by making sure that livestock and pets are well protected.  Children (and frequently adults) are also at risk, particularly in early mornings, late afternoons and nights so calls of nature to outside toilets should be avoided.  Children in particular should avoid areas where there are high grasses or crops as these can be hiding places for leopards at any time of the day.  In the event of a leopard enter a village it is important not to make the cat panic (it will be most likely be wary and somewhat stressed anyway) by gathering in a mob and making unduly loud noise.  Many attacks on humans have occurred because leopards were not given the space to leave the area and there is no clear pathway to escape.  A leopard will always leave an urban area (no matter how big or small) once they sense the opportunity to hunt is minimal or dangerous.  Calm communication between local people and staying indoors will either allow the leopard to move on or allow authorities to take control of the situation once alerted.

We are currently working with conservation authorities in Nepal with regard to the protocols for rescue and rehabilitation of leopards.  More information at this WildTiger page.  Back to Coexistence Strategies.