Common Leopard: An Elusive Black-necked Crane Predator

Leopard
Leopard

The Royal Society for Protection of Nature has identified one of the elusive predators of the Black-necked Cranes (Grus nigricollos) as the common leopard (Panthera pardus) in Phobjikha valley. With support from the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, nine camera traps were set up around the crane roosting areas. One of the cameras captured a leopard sometime between 4th and 10th January 2010. 

At 10:41 pm on 12th January, the same camera trap captured another picture of a leopard (presumably the same leopard) with a crane. These photographic images also confirm the scat analysis report from a DNA test conducted in collaboration with the Department of Forest when several cranes were lost in the last few years. Apart from the common leopard, a number of possible predators were listed including the domestic dog, the red fox, the leopard cat, and the yellow-throated marten. According to local knowledge, the common leopard locally known as Zi is a frequent predator on local livestock and cranes.

Leopard

Remains of three cranes were found on 11th and 13th January 2010 near the roost where the leopard’s pictures were captured. The highest number of cranes was lost between December and February 2008, when remains including feathers, down, and bones of nine cranes were identified close to the roost.

The loss of cranes to predators had created concerns and debates among the Bhutanese who were aware of the significance of crane conservation. Although, the predator-prey relationship is a natural phenomenon to maintain the ecological balance, identification of the predator in this case was important especially to carry out appropriate interventions to protect the cranes. Following the ecological and social concerns, RSPN set up strict vigilance and constant monitoring over the last few years to protect the bird’s habitat in the face of more unnatural predation in the form of developments that are not necessarily conducive to sustain a healthy population of this bird species.

Today, Phobjikha is a potential tourist destination, an important agricultural area, and home to some 5000 people living off its land and natural resources. It is the case of a delicate balance between man and nature and therefore requires conscientious policies and programmes to maintain and enhance a positive relationship among its cranes and its people.