The main aim of our visit to the Vavunikulam region was to obtain evidence of the presence of mainly leopards and also the presence of the Jungle Cat, Rusty Spotted Cat and the Fishing Cat.
Samith and I walked around 25km looking for signs such as scat, pugmarks and scrapings and of course sightings of leopards and the other three cats. Three of our trails which were off the main track were muddy and inundated with water. However we still managed to obtain pugmarks and scat in these trails. We were also very lucky to see two cattle which had fallen prey to a leopard a few days before we arrived. We also heard the villagers shouting and warning each other that a leopard was in the area in the middle of the night.
From what we observed leopards are indeed present as we obtained scat and pugmarks to prove it. Villagers keep their goats, cattle and buffalo in very flimsy pens which only prevent the livestock from escaping; this makes it very easy for leopards to kill and drag the animals far into the forest away from humans as the forest is only a few metres away from the pens.
We were also able to obtain pugmarks of mouse deer, wild boar, mongoose, dogs or jackals and civets. We spotted monkeys and mongoose which seem to be very common in the region. We were able to photograph the scat of deer and of leopards too which we collected for further analysis.
Forests in the region are being cut illegally. There has been mass deforestation in the area due to resettlement and timber for the use of firewood. This is now creating a conflict between leopards and humans and immediate intervention and awareness programs need to be carried out before this escalates any further.
From conversing with the villages, my take was that they have no issues living with leopards and are quite happy to have the cats around as long as they do not harm the livestock as this is their main source of income.