National Geographic : 2015 Dec
out of the shadows 135 she found them everywhere, 11 adults roaming by night in and around Akole, an area with no forests and no deer or other big, natural prey and where 20,000 people move around by day. The first question was, Why so many leop- ards? As elsewhere in India, it begins with reliance on open trash and meat market dumps, which support a thriving community of stray dogs, feral pigs, and other small animals. Federal law and an influential animal-rights movement prevent removal of street dogs. So the dogs and other domestic animals in turn support a thriv- ing community of leopards. (They made up 87 percent of the leopards’ diet in Athreya’s study.) Irrigation schemes introduced since the 1980s also help attract leopards. Among other crops, sugarcane is now common in formerly dry areas such as Akole and the Junnar region, and this tall, thick grass provides a perfect hid- ing place for leopards—close to villages, garbage heaps, and dogs. It is an ecosystem. One day during her research, Athreya said, she passed by a field where 15 women were pick- ing tomatoes, and stopped to chat with a farmer. Oh, yes, the man said, he’d seen a leopard only a few days before. She didn’t tell him that a leop- ard was resting in the sugarcane at that moment, On the night of July 15, 2012, a leopard killed a seven-year-old girl in Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Gathering in numbers in well-lit areas may help nearby villagers feel safe outdoors after dark.