Saturday, March 21, 2009

India: Dwindling leopard count cause for worry

20 Mar 2009, 0105 hrs IST, Neha Shukla, TNN

LUCKNOW: The first quarter of the year 2009 has not left a reason to believe that leopards are any safer. As many as 39 leopard skins have been
seized across the country by several enforcement agencies till the date.

The latest seizure took place on Wednesday when Uttrakhand STF along with Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) arrested a person and recovered two leopard skins in Dehradun. The accused had poisoned the mule killed by the leopards almost two years ago. He had skinned the two leopards and stored the skins to sell them off later.

According to WPSI, the only agency that maintains a wildlife crime database in the country, 39 skins have been seized till March 18. "The number of leopards killed must be higher as there is no count of bones recovered or actual poaching cases,'' said Tito Joseph from WPSI.

According to the last year's census figures, there are not more than 11,000 leopards left in the country. The figures are alarming against the backdrop that a leopard is listed under Schedule (I) of Wildlife (Protection) Act and is identified as critically endangered.

The number of leopards killed each year is four to five times higher than that of tigers or lions. But, so far its conservation has failed to garner as much attention as that of the other two big cats. Conservationists feel that this could be affecting the systematic protection of the leopards.

Leopards mostly exist on the fringes of the forest and that makes them face the most severe backlash from humans and grave threat from poachers. The declining prey base and shrinking habitat forces the animal to venture out of the forest area often bringing it in conflict with the humans.

Leopards are more visible as they exist in the buffer zone of the forest. The presence of a tiger always drives them out of the core area. This raises a doubt that leopards are over-populated. But, in reality their population is decreasing fast.

Leopards continue to be an ignored member of the threatened cat family. Though the situation is not as grim as that of tiger and lion but due to lack of serious efforts to manage forest area and leopards' natural prey base, it is destined to worsen.


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