Leopards at poachers mercy in natural habitat

Endangered

The Leopard population in the hill state of Uttarakhand, acclaimed for its wildlife habitat, is in serious trouble. An estimate close to 3,000 leopards exist in their natural habitat here.

On an average a leopard is killed every second dayBut a leopard is being killed every second day on an average, going by the seizures of leopard skin that have taken place since January.

In just 50-days of this year, at least 25 leopard skins have been seized from poachers in Uttarakhand.

In the wee hours of Thursday, five more leopard skins were confiscated from Uttarakashi during a special operation which went on till late morning. The wildlife authorities in Uttarakhand have now pressed the panic button to save leopards from poachers.

The alarming rise in the recovery of leopard skin from the state sinceJanuary could break previous records. Leopard killings could be far more than what is being reflected in seizures since many of the poachers may have actually managed to flee and escape the eyes of the law, Anil Baluni, Deputy Chairman of Forest and Environment Advisory Committee, Uttarakhand, told Deccan Herald.

In 2011, the government seized 55 leopard skins. The number was 45 in 2010. “Its only February and the number of leopard skin confiscated from various parts of the state has already touched 25”, said Baluni. He added that Leopards were being killed not just for their skin but for their high priced bones as well.

Alarmed at the rising recoveries of bones and leopard skin, the state government on Monday gave its nod to the setting up of a coordination committee in each district comprising the district magistrate, the superintendent of police and the district forest officer.

The terrain and dense forests in the state makes the task more challenging. A Special Operations Group, designed for wildlife safety, has also been put in place. The team has roped in locals who know the topography of the area well. “This special operations group is operational at the Rajaji national park and in Kumoun region,” Balauni said.

A Tiger skin was seized from a poacher from the Corbett park this month. To protect the tigers in the prestigious Jim Corbett Park in the state- which has the highest tiger density in India- a special tiger protection forced armed with latest special rifles, is already in place.

Intelligence, Balauni says, is key to the success of these groups. Over the last few months, the force has been able to crack down on at least two dozen tribesmen of the Bawaria gang. Authorities say they have been indulging in leopard killings for skin and bones.

Although Baluni maintains the situation is alarming than before, he said the high number of seizures is also an indication of efficient work by officers.

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