Siliguri, July 9: Leopards are in danger. As many as 226 of them could have been killed last year alone.
Figures compiled by Delhi-based Wildlife Protection Society of India shows 226 incidents of leopard deaths and skin seizures across the country in 2006. Skins seized from poachers accounted for 60 per cent of them. In the other cases, the carcasses were found.
Most of the deaths were caused directly by humans. Leopards were trapped, poisoned and even shot, while some died in road accidents.
More than 40 deaths and seizures were reported from Uttarakhand. Delhi (39), Uttar Pradesh, (35), Maharashtra (14), Bengal (12), Assam and Andhra Pradesh (both 10) followed.
The last leopard count — in 1997 — had put their number at 7,273.
"Unlike the tiger, the leopard population has shown a steady rise in India over the past few years," said Animesh Bose, the programme co-ordinator of the Siliguri-based Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation. "This has made them more vulnerable to poachers. In north Bengal, poisoning and trapping are often reported from the tea estates."
Experts believe it isn't just a result of villagers and tea estate workers killing the animals to save their livestock. The arrest of Ratiram Sharma from Jaigaon on the Bhutan border and the leopard skins found on him last July confirmed the existence of rackets selling the stuff to the Chinese.
He has been sentenced to five years' rigorous imprisonment.
"The poor cousin of tiger skin, leopard skins are often seized on their way to China," said Samir Sinha, who is associated with the NGO, TRAFFIC-India.
Leopards are among the "Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora" according to law, but there is no separate conservation programme for them in India.
"Although the leopard is covered as a co-predator under the tiger conservation programme, the figures indicate the need to concentrate on the animal exclusively," an environmentalist said.