The story of relations between people and leopards isn’t always a happy one. But it can be.
The story of relations between people and leopards isn’t a happy one. For centuries people have been forcing these wild cats to the fringes of existence. Nor are leopards alone in this. Humans have driven wolf populations from many area and they won’t hesitate to shoot bears on sight.
But then there are also positive approaches. One is in the Hamirpur district of India. Scientists say it may hold a key to a better future between humans and animals.
A new study published in People and Nature suggests an alternative narrative to perceiving leopards (and many other wild animals) as instinct-driven creatures with no personality and little capacity for thought. The inhabitants of Hamirpur do so by “talking” to leopards.
And even if the predators don’t respond in our language, we can surely search for some common understanding. Good rapport between locals and leopards goes back a long way and acceptance of leopards as valuable fellow creatures is at the core of local beliefs.
The researchers spoke to 23 locals to explore what’s behind those amicable relations. They discovered that “People in the landscape relate to leopards with an underlying belief that leopards are thinking beings.” Locals “negotiate” shared spaces with leopards on a daily basis.
While new research into animal cognition aligns well with those findings, it is still in stark contrast to the dominant view that humans are far superior to all other creatures. Yet we can rediscover a more nuanced worldview by coming to value other animals as our equals in some ways.
And although violent encounters between humans and leopards do occur from time to time, locals explain this by laying the blame on people. They think that leopards attack only if humans behave unwisely, provoke animals, or intervene in their hunt. Non-aggressive encounters are much more frequent, however, with people describing leopards as shy and smart animals.
Biodiversity conservation is one of the most urgent issues of our time. New ways to think about human-animal relations are crucial. The researchers stress that by learning to empathize with other species, we can become more effective in preserving life on Earth.
“Perhaps by identifying the mediums through which narratives travel elsewhere in the world and recognizing and re-imagining the ways in which these species are being portrayed, new narratives that align with conservation goals can be produced,” say the authors of the study.