If last year, 129 leopards met their doom at the hands of poachers, this year, 93 of them have fallen prey to poaching and seizures. This has been reported by Wildlife Protection Society of India which investigates and verifies any unnatural tiger/leopard deaths in India. However, this is only a fraction of the actual poaching and trading in leopard parts in the country. In the last seven months, 210 leopards have died and 93 out of this to poachers. Further, road kills and conflict has added to their woes.
A recent study by TRAFFIC India on the seizure and mortality of common leopards has revealed that out of 747 leopard deaths between 2015-2019 in India, 596 were linked to illegal trade and poaching activities. Further, the highest number of incidents were reported from Uttarakhand and Maharashtra.
The study stated, “In this period, there were more than 140 cases of seizures of leopard body parts in Uttarakhand, and about 19 incidents where the deaths of these cats could be directly linked to poaching. Skin accounted for 69 per cent of all seizures, while claws, teeth and bones were also traded.”
If one looks at the cases reported, the rising number of leopard deaths are due to snaring, poaching, road kills and leopard-human conflicts in 7-8 states of India and this raises many questions about its conservation and protection. With India home to 25,000 leopards, there is lack of commitment and seriousness on the part of authorities to address the issue of declining numbers. Experts feel its high time the MoEF gave the same importance to leopards as given to tigers before their numbers reduce to danger levels.
Supporting this, a scientific study by Centre for Wildlife Studies and Wildlife Institute of India has revealed a 75-90 per cent decline in the population of leopards in India and have recommended the same attention to them akin to tigers. The study revealed population structure and recent decline in leopards and the study was conducted by Supriya Bhatt, Suvankar Biswas, Dr Bivash Pandav, Dr Samrat Mondol (Wildlife Institute of India) and Dr Krithi K Karanth (Centre for Wildlife Studies).
The list of leopard kills is increasing day by day and unlike tigers, there are no proper records or documentation of its deaths. Despite being a Schedule-1 animal, the MoEF&CC has turned a blind eye to the rising incidents of leopard deaths. Their deaths have become so common that it is not even reported in the media, says an activist. Every month, in fringes of forests or in villages (where sometimes they are beaten to death by people), on highways or even inside forests, leopard killings are being reported regularly from Uttarakhand, UP, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and other states.
On August 9, a leopard was snared at Veerahosanahalli in Nagarhole range of Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, Karnataka. This five-year-old leopard was caught in a snare erected in a private estate near Thitthimathi forests. According to wildlife activists, snaring has become common in estates surrounding the tiger reserve. The locally made snares that are installed by estate workers for catching wild boars and deer in the forests (bordering the estates) for meat, have often resulted in the death of leopards and sometimes, tigers.
Road kills of leopards have become frequent especially on highways bordering forests where no mitigation measures have been installed to avoid such accidents. On August 11, a speeding vehicle, reportedly a car hit an adult leopard at Kyatsandra on Tumakuru-Bengaluru highway, killing the animal on the spot. The healthy animal was about 5-6 years old.
On August 13, a speeding vehicle killed a leopard cub near Bengaluru. A mother with three cubs was often seen in the Jigani area, however, due to the ongoing construction of a campus by IIM-B, the family moved away. However, forest officials say that both leopards and elephants have been disdurbed a lot as the IIM-Bcampus being built is surrounded by Bannerghatta forests and despite opposition, work continues.
In an incident of human-leopard conflict in July end, a young leopard which was caged as it had attacked cattle escaped in Hosadurga, Chitradurga district, Karnataka. Due to pressure from villagers, the forest officials had kept a cage and the leopard had been trapped. However, breaking open the cage, the desperate leopard escaped but, in the process, injuring itself.
BODY PARTS SEIZURES
On June 14, two leopard skins and bones were seized in Ranapur in Nayagarh district, Odisha. Preliminary investigations by police have revealed that two leopards were shot and skinned later. The increasing cases of poaching in Odisha points to the demand for skin, bones and other body parts in the international market.
On July 11th, leopard skin, bones and claws were seized in Seoni district of Madhya Pradesh. According to Police, they were caught red handed when they were trying to sell the body parts for Rs 10 lakh. The arrested four poachers revealed that they had killed a leopard in Dhuma forest about two months back and chopped off its parts and hidden it in their homes.
On July 29, a leopard skin was seized in Solan district of Himachal Pradesh from two poachers. The two local residents were arrested along with guns and ammunition.
A forest official said with these spotted big cats venturing into human settlements and living amid people, they have become more visible and it is easier for poachers to track and hunt them through local informers. When leopards come hunting for stray dogs and cattle, they become the prey and are hunted easily by local people who are hired by agents working for international gangs.
According to WPSI, the illicit international demand for big cat skins along with trading in bones and other parts for use in traditional oriental medicine, continues to be the main reason for the unrelenting poaching pressure on these endangered cats. There is virtually no market for either skins or bones of leopards in India. It is high time authorities took corrective measures and provided the same protection to leopards before it is too late.
LEOPARD MORTALITY (WPSI)
LEOPARD DEATHS IN 2020
Poaching & 93
LEOPARD DEATHS IN 2019
Poaching & 129