ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) is planning to start guided educational tours in the newly-established leopard conservation area in the Margalla Hills National Park.

“You might not be able to see leopards that are nocturnal, but Rangers would be able to show its markings and scat,” said IWMB Chairperson Rina Saeed Khan.

A preliminary study conducted by the IWMB between March and May 2021 has identified at least seven individual leopards, including a mother and her two cubs. The disclosure came after Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered setting up of a leopard preservation zone in a roughly 10km (6.2 miles) radius on the Margalla Hills to protect the endangered species’ natural habitat. Out of the 17, 000 hectares of the national park, almost half of the territory is their’s, coexisting with people.

“Luckily there never has been a human-leopard conflict, however, there have been some reports of villagers complaining of leopards attacking and killing livestock. In future we will have a mechanism to verify the claims,” Ms Khan said, adding that declaring a leopard conservation area was just the beginning.

Preliminary study has identified seven leopards on Margalla Hills

She said the dense area where leopards had been spotted the most - the core zone of the park - has been closed to public to protect the animal’s habitat.

The seven leopards are resident leopards, living in the park throughout the year.

“We saw them in January, March, April, May, June and then recently. Camera traps set up in 20 locations were catching their visuals every day during the period of the study from March till May,” the IWMB chairperson said.

She further told Dawn that there could be more leopards, therefore, another study would be conducted next year, adding that “the results of the scientific study were being compiled for publication in a reputable science journal”.

Ms Khan also said her office was working on a management plan for the national park.

“The Margalla Hills National Park does not have a proper management plan. A baseline study conducted many years ago is now out of date,” she said, adding that, “we will hire experts in the next few months and once we have that plan, we will have more zones and better studies”.

The IWMB did not want to share the core zone where leopards were most spotted.

“We do not want to give the exact location. Although they are all over the park, it does not put trekkers and hikers at risk. They come out at night and people are not supposed to be on the trails after dark,” Ms Khan, adding that the increase in leopard population was attributed to better conservation and increase in their prey.

Published in Dawn, October 17th, 2021

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