National Geographic : 2015 Dec
138 national geographic • december 2015 just 65 feet away. They had no cause for concern. “Leopards are not as bloodthirsty as we think,” said Athreya. “They are reasonable at some lev- el.” Anthropologist Sunetro Ghosal, who has also worked in Akole, described “a history of sharing space” and even “mutual accommodation,” leop- ards and humans alike going out of their way to avoid confrontations. (Possibly as a form of in- surance, people in the region treat leopards and tigers as gods, or waghobas, and make propitia- tory offerings at small waghoba shrines.) To understand where the human-leopard relationship goes awry, Athreya investigated a rash of attacks that occurred in the Junnar region from 2001 to 2003. In what seemed at first to be a coincidence, the forest department had been trapping leopards, more than a hun- dred of them, from problem areas in Junnar, mainly after attacks on livestock. Those animals got released in forests an average of 20 miles from the capture sites—a common technique for dealing with problem carnivores worldwide. But after the relocations, Athreya and her team discovered, attacks on humans in Junnar in- creased by 325 percent, and the percentage of those attacks that were fatal doubled. “It was a typical case of the messed-up mind of a cat,” Athreya said. Messed up, that is, by A cub just six to seven months old roams along the fence that separates the leopards of South Africa’s Sabi Sand game reserve from villages and land where livestock graze.