Large Cat Deities Help People Share Space With Leopards in India

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WCS-India has just published a new study that shows how leopards and humans can coexist peacefully thanks to a large cat deity worshiped by Indigenous Peoples in India.

By Daniel Webster, dWeb.News

BENGALURU India — The study, published in Frontiers in Conservation Science, Human-Wildlife Dynamics: A Special Issue, is called Understanding Coexistence With Wildlife. It documents how the Indigenous Warli people in Maharashtra, India worship Waghoba (a leopard/tiger god) to protect them from leopards and how they have lived side-by-side for centuries (previously with tigers too). Over 150 shrines have been identified that are dedicated to Waghoba worship, according to the researchers. Researchers note that although there are still some negative interactions with leopards, such as livestock predation and predatory behavior, these are more likely to be accepted by Waghoba.

Warlis believe that there is a reciprocal relationship between them and Waghoba. This means that Waghoba will provide protection from big cats and the negative effects of sharing space with them if they worship the deity, perform the required rituals, particularly at Waghbaras.

These relationships, according to researchers, facilitate the sharing spaces between leopards and humans that live in the landscape. The study also examines the influence of various institutions and stakeholders on the landscape’s institution of Waghoba, which in turn influences the landscape’s human-leopard relation.

Ramya Nair, WCS India’s study lead author, stated that the study was designed to broaden our understanding and approach to human-wildlife interactions. This study reveals how local institutions can contribute to peaceful coexistence, and also play a part in negotiating conflicts that may arise.

There may be systems locally produced that address human-wildlife interactions in other cultures or landscapes. While conservation interventions have demonstrated a shift toward local participation and inclusion, the authors point out that we must recognize that landscapes have a past before we can enter them. This is important for wildlife conservation today because these traditional institutions can act as tolerance-building mechanisms within the local belief system. It is important that all stakeholders, including the Forest Department, conservation biologists and other non-Warli residents, are aware of and sensitive to cultural representations. This is because leopards are not the only biological animal the Warlis deal with.

Researchers from NINA, Norway (WCS-India), Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Norway, and Wildlife Conservation Trust supported the study. In 2018-19, fieldwork was carried out in the Thane, Palghar, and Mumbai Suburban districts of Maharashtra. To collect data, ethnographers used semi-structured interviews to interview participants and conduct participant observation (especially at worship ceremonies), while simultaneously documenting Waghoba shrines. Questions were used to ask about narratives regarding Waghoba’s role in Warli’s lives, the history of Waghoba worship and its ties with human-leopard interactions.

WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS conserves wildlife and wild places around the world through science, conservation actions, education, and instilling respect for nature. WCS is based in the Bronx Zoo and harnesses the power and influence of its Global Conservation Program in almost 60 countries and all world’s oceans. It also has five New York City wildlife parks that are visited annually by 4,000,000 people. WCS brings together its knowledge from the aquarium, field and aquarium to accomplish its conservation mission.

New Titles in Native and Indigenous Studies

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