2,300 leopards killed in last decade: Study

For the last ten years, at least four leopards were killed every week in India, either by poachers or by people who considered these animals as threats to their livelihood.

Collating and statistically analysing available data, a wildlife organisation has claimed that an estimated number of 2,294 leopards were killed between 2001 and 2010. The estimate has an error margin of 403, which means the figure could vary between 2,700 and 1,800.

“This translated to an estimated killing of at least four leopards per week for illegal trade over the past 10 years,” says the study carried out by Traffic India.

Bulk of the killings took place in Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand and Himachal Pradesh in the North and Karnataka in South. Delhi has turned out to be a major centre for accumulation in trade in leopard body parts and skins.

The findings have come a year after the Union Environment and Forest Ministry brought out a guideline on leopard conservation that outlined several strategies to reduce man-animal conflict and curb on poaching.

One of the key reasons for conflict is the leopard’s tendency to target small domestic animals as prey because of the shrinking forest cover. But little seems to have taken place on the ground.

“The government’s attention is so focused on tiger, other animals rarely get any notice.

And all documentation is under-reporting as no crime is recorded 100 per cent,” conservationist Ravi Chellam, a former scientist of Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun who now heads Madras Crocodile Bank told Deccan Herald.

Leopard skins dominate the illegal market of leopard body parts. Out of 420 incidents of seizures of leopard body parts by law enforcing authorities in 27 states, seven Union territories and the national capital region of Delhi, as many as 371 incidents involved only skins.

These reported seizures account for at least 1,127 leopards poached and in illegal trade, says the survey.

As many as 209 localities were recorded as being active in leopard trade at some point of time in the last 10 years.

There has been an overall increasing trend in the number of localities reported as active each year but southern India appears to be growing fastest, pointing to a need for increased law enforcement effort in that region in future.  “Poaching of so many leopards are enough of a cause of worry. The incidents of man-animal conflict rises because of habitat destruction. These cats are small and agile, which can live in the proximity of human population,” said Chellam, who is not connected to the Traffic India study.

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