The Associated Press
Published: April 24, 2007
NEW DELHI: Forest officials are investigating the death of at least one leopard suspected to have been killed and mutilated as part of a religious ceremony in India's eastern jungles, wildlife officials and activists said Tuesday.
Villagers on Monday found three large animal carcasses with their heads and legs severed in the Brahmagiri forest range in the eastern state of Orissa, according to news reports. One was a leopard, but it was unclear whether the others were leopards or hyenas, according to Diswajit Mohanty of the Wildlife Society of Orissa.
Though a black market demand for rare animals remains strong, the killings were likely part of a religious ceremony, not the poaching trade, said Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
Wright said the killings were probably linked to superstitious rituals because "the skin was left behind and the heads were severed."
"It's rare, but it does happen in India," Wright said
Superstitions and unusual religious ceremonies are still practiced across India, particularly in rural areas.
Poachers value rare animal pelts and bones because they can be sold on the Chinese market, where they are used in traditional medicines.
Poachers have killed at least 369 leopards over the past two years, according to rough numbers compiled by the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
The state Forest Department has opened an investigation into the killings, said department official Sarap Kumar Mishra.
Leopards and hyenas are both protected under the Indian Wildlife Act.
Also on Tuesday, two rhinoceros poachers were killed in a shootout with wildlife rangers at a sprawling game reserve in northeastern Assam state, according to officials. The shootings come less than two weeks after armed gangs shot two of the rare animals dead
Poachers hunting for rhinos late Monday night attached rangers on patrol in Kaziranga National Park, 235 kilometers (145 miles) east of the state capital Gauhati, which led to a shootout in the reserve, said M.C. Malakar, Assam's Chief Wildlife Warden.
Authorities in remote Assam state launched a crackdown on rhinoceros poachers at Kaziranga on Monday, sending in reinforcements of armed forest rangers, and drawing up plans to involve people in the vicinity to gather information on poacher gangs.
The government action follows the killing of six rare one-horned rhinoceros since January.
Rhino horns are in great demand globally, particularly in Southeast Asia, for their alleged efficacy in producing aphrodisiacs and traditional medicines. Some people also use them to make decorative dagger handles.
Between 2003 and 2005, 13 poachers have been shot dead inside the reserve while more than 100 others have been arrested in the past four years.
Wildlife officials and activists are concerned about an apparent spate of poaching in recent months.
Besides the rhino poaching, nine endangered Asiatic lions have been killed recently in western India, and last week eight tigers were reported missing from a reserve in western India.
Associated Press writer Wasbir Hussain contributed to this report.