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India’s Leopard Population


Prelims: Environment (Species)- Indian Leopard

Mains: General Studies III: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Why in the News ?

The recent surge in India’s leopard population has garnered attention, but what lies beneath the headline number reveals a more nuanced story.

Source: IE

Key Facts 🗝️

Conservation Concerns

  • Despite the uptick in numbers, leopards still face threats from poaching, underscoring the necessity for sustained conservation efforts.

  • The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) designates leopards as “Vulnerable” due to habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and illegal trade.

📌 FYI on Prelims

The National Survey’s Revelations

  • The 2022 national survey unveiled a remarkable increase in India’s leopard population, reaching 13,874, marking a substantial 75% rise from 2014’s estimate of 7,910.

  • Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s praise for this surge, the 2022 Status of Leopards in India report provides deeper insights into the actual findings.

Insights from the 2022 Report

  • Central India and Eastern Ghats emerge as the hotspots, hosting 8,820 leopards, followed by the Western Ghats (3,596), and the Shivalik Hills and Gangetic Plains (1,109).

  • Among states, Madhya Pradesh leads with 3,907 leopards, trailed by Maharashtra (1,985), Karnataka (1,879), and Tamil Nadu (1,070).

  • Wildlife experts caution against overly optimistic interpretations, emphasizing that the growth rate remains marginal compared to other species like tigers.

Understanding the Leopard

  • Indian leopards, scientifically known as Panthera pardus fusca, are crucial apex predators, maintaining ecosystem balance.

  • They inhabit a diverse range of forested habitats across India, Nepal, Bhutan, and parts of Pakistan.

Key Differentiations

  • It’s essential to distinguish between leopards and cheetahs, understanding their unique characteristics and habitats.

  • Additionally, recognizing the distinctions between African cheetahs and Asiatic cheetahs aids in understanding conservation challenges.

Ecological Significance

  • Leopards occupy a pivotal trophic level in the carnivore food chain, regulating prey populations and maintaining ecosystem health.

  • Their role as apex predators underscores the need for their conservation to preserve biodiversity.


Cheetah vs. Leopard: Understanding the Differences

Cheetah and leopard are both magnificent big cats, but they have several distinct characteristics that set them apart:

Physical Appearance

  • Cheetah:

    • Recognizable for its slender build, spotted coat, and distinctive tear stripes running from the eyes to the mouth.
    • Possesses a deep chest and a small head with black “tear marks” on its face.
    • Generally has a yellowish coat with small black spots.
  • Leopard:

    • Larger and more robust compared to the cheetah, with a stocky build and shorter legs.
    • Features a golden-yellow coat with rosettes (rose-like markings) that are larger and more complex than the cheetah’s spots.
    • Often referred to as “the prince of stealth” due to its remarkable camouflage.

Habitat and Range

  • Cheetah:

    • Primarily found in open grasslands and savannas of Africa, with a small population in Iran.
    • Prefers wide-open spaces for its high-speed chases, relying on its speed to catch prey.
  • Leopard:

    • Inhabits a wide range of habitats, including forests, woodlands, and even urban areas, across Africa and parts of Asia.
    • Known for its adaptability and ability to thrive in various environments, from dense forests to semi-arid regions.

Hunting Behavior

  • Cheetah:

    • Specialized for speed, capable of sprinting up to 60-70 mph in short bursts.
    • Often hunts during the day, targeting small to medium-sized ungulates like gazelles and impalas.
  • Leopard:

    • Renowned for its strength and agility, utilizing stealth and ambush tactics to stalk and pounce on its prey.
    • More versatile in its diet, preying on a wide range of animals, including smaller mammals, birds, and even larger prey like antelopes and monkeys.

Extinct, Extinct in the wild & Critically Endangered


  • Definition: A species is considered extinct when there are no known individuals of that species remaining.
  • Example: The dodo bird, which became extinct in the 17th century due to human activity and habitat destruction.

Extinct in the Wild

  • Definition: A species is classified as extinct in the wild when it only survives in captivity, with no remaining populations in its natural habitat.
  • Example: The Scimitar-horned oryx, which is extinct in the wild due to hunting and habitat loss but survives in captive breeding programs.

Critically Endangered

  • Definition: Species categorized as critically endangered face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
  • Example: The Amur leopard, with less than 100 individuals remaining in the wild due to poaching, habitat loss, and human-wildlife conflict.

Carnivore Food Chain

The carnivore food chain illustrates the flow of energy and nutrients among carnivorous animals within an ecosystem:

  • Primary Carnivores: These are the top predators in the food chain, such as lions, tigers, and wolves, that primarily feed on herbivores.
  • Secondary Carnivores: Animals that prey on primary carnivores or smaller carnivores for sustenance, forming the next level in the food chain.
  • Tertiary Carnivores: The apex predators at the highest trophic level, feeding on both primary and secondary carnivores.
  • Scavengers: Carnivores that primarily feed on dead animals, playing a crucial role in nutrient recycling within ecosystems.
  • Decomposers: Organisms like bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter, including the remains of carnivores, into simpler substances for recycling in the ecosystem.

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