28 Feb 2009, 0855 hrs IST, Avijit Ghosh, TNN
NEW DELHI: India's leopard count has gone down by 69 in the past eight weeks. Statistics show that between January 1 and February 25, 2009, at least 36 leopards were either poisoned, ensnared in traps, killed in accidents or became victims of man-animal conflict. One of them even fell into a well and died in Karnataka last month.
That's not all. Officials have also seized 33 leopard skins and 9 kilos of bones in these eight weeks in different parts of the country, data gathered by a Delhi-based NGO, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), shows.
The killing cuts across all regions ranging from Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh to J&K's Kishtwar district, from Karnataka's Udupi district to Bihar's Madhubani. Uttarakhand, which has India's largest leopard population, witnessed the highest number of killings: 15. Four skins as well as 4.5 kg bones were also recovered from the hill state. Part of the problem stems from growing man-animal conflicts caused by the habitat loss of the big cat. But wildlife activists also say that a significant number of these deaths are poaching-related. The seizure of leopard skins in states like Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh indicates that illegal wildlife trade is widespread. “In recent times poaching seems to have gone up due to the rise of illegal skin trade in China,” says Advait Edgaonkar, a Bangalore-based carnivore biologist who specialises in leopards.
In India, three major wildlife species are traded illegally: tiger, leopard and otter. Sources say China and Southeast Asian countries are their biggest market. Tiger body parts are used in indigenous medicines and are the most prized. “Leopard bones are considered good substitutes and are also in demand,” says Tito Joseph of WPSI. Skulls and claws of the protected animal are also in demand. The seizure of bones in Bengal's northern Jaigaon region and Uttarakhand's Haldwani district reaffirms the point. Police recovered eight skins apiece in Delhi and Himachal Pradesh.
Leopards are included in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, that gives them legal protection. But unlike tigers, their killing hardly draws the same sort of outcry. As per official statistics, there were about 11,000 leopards in India in January 2008. In comparison, an estimated 1,411 tigers were alive during the same period. But the rate of leopard killing is far higher than the tiger. WPSI statistics show that over 3,000 leopards were killed between 1994-2008.
Edgaonkar suggests better conservation efforts as well as strong action against poachers to ensure a more secure life for the leopards. Joseph says that despite several measures by the central government, not much has changed at the grass root level.
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BOX: LEOPARD TOLL
UTTARAKHAND: 15 leopards killed, 4 skins and 4.5 kg bones seized
UTTAR PRADESH: 1 leopard killed, 4 skins recovered
ORISSA: 1 skin confiscated
HIMACHAL PRADESH: 1 cub killed, haul of 8 skins
DELHI: 8 skins seized
GUJARAT: 1 leopard killed
ANDHRA PRADESH: 1 leopard dies, 1 skin seized
MADHYA PRADESH: 2 leopards killed
WEST BENGAL: 1 leopard dead, 1 skin and 4.5 kgs bones seized
MAHARASHTRA: 1 leopard electrocuted, 2 skins confiscated
CHHATTISGARH: 1 leopard killed, 1 skin seized
J&K: 2 leopards killed
KARNATAKA: 8 leopards killed, three skins confiscated
BIHAR: 1 leopard killed
ASSAM: 1 leopard found dead
( Leopard deaths and skin seizures between January 1 and February 26, 2009. Source: WPSI )
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