When the leopard and tiger meet in Ranthambhore

When the leopard and tiger meet  in Ranthambhore
The tiger and the leopard are two big cats, both equally charismatic and magnificent. There is always a curiosity of how these two species interact and how they share space and prey base. This was an observation in Sariska, when all the tigers were poached in 2005, the leopard’s activity even in daytime, had risen up and they roamed fearlessly in the entire habitat. Not just leopards, the movement of hyenas and jackals also went up around that time.

The year 2005 was also a time when there was poaching in Ranthambhore too, and the tiger number had gone down. The legendary tiger conservationist, Fateh Singh Rathore also observed that there was an increase in leopard number and sighting rates and this itself was an indicator of a decrease in tiger numbers. However, there is no scientific study to prove this; these are mere observations, which are used as signs by experienced individuals. Indian male tigers weigh about 220 kg on an average, whereas the Indian male leopard weighs about 63 kg. An average tigress weighs about 139 kg while the leopardess weighs about 32 kg.

The tiger is about three or four times heavier than the leopard; hence, there is no equal confrontation. However, there is one trick on the leopard’s sleeve, which always saves it from the tiger -- its ability to climb treetop to save itself from danger. Yet each year, a few leopards are killed each year due to tiger attacks. In Ranthambhore, the figure could be 2-3 leopards. Most of the times these are sub-adult leopard cubs that get killed by tigers, as they move out to find their own territory and lack the experience to tackle such situations. An incident was observed in 2010, when a leopard cub with its mother confronted a tiger and both climbed two separate trees. However, the young cub was afraid and impatient to get to the mother. Before he could even climb down completely, the tiger had managed to attack him; he was killed in front of the mother who stayed back on the tree. In the same instant, the tiger had started to eat the young leopard.

The tiger does not look at a leopard as food, it looks at it as an enemy or intrusion, which would compete for same prey base and thus needs to be taken out. In one instance, there was a leopardess caught in a tense dramatic situation, where a tiger chased it and she climbed on a ghost tree (Sterculia urens) and awaited the tiger to move away. Her two sub-adult cubs were watching the mother from top of a cliff. The cubs were signalled by the mother to move away from danger, gauging that the tiger had moved out of the area. The mother leopard climbed down carefully surveying the place and went in the opposite direction of the tiger. She then climbed up the cliff near her two cubs. Often the tigers end up snatching the leopard’s food when it gets a chance to scavenge; however there are limited observations on such behaviour. We too are not fully aware of these interactions between animals and these are the mysteries, which pull us to the wild.

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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