After tiger, leopard facing threat

A recent study of the number of leopards in India has shown that there has been an 80 per cent decline in their population in the last 100 years. It might not be taken as an extraordinary finding because the fall in numbers is over a long period and the numbers of some other wild animals have seen worse declines during the same period. But the study is important because its conclusion has gone against the common notion that the leopard population has been increasing in the country. A dependable national survey of leopards has not taken place. They are more numerous than tigers and are widely distributed across states. States have undertaken surveys of leopards in their areas but an overall picture has been lacking. Some states have reported an increase in the number of leopards in recent years. But it is doubtful if the figures are correct. The latest survey, based on genetic data analysis, is considered reliable. It was conducted over a period of four years by experts of three wildlife institutes.

Leopards are placed in the ‘near threatened’ category, but their condition does not evoke as much concern as that of tigers and some other endangered species. Tigers have been reduced to a few pockets and their numbers are much less. They have received more attention. The idea that leopards are not doing very badly came, strangely, from the more frequent reports of the killing or accidental deaths of the animals near human habitations. These were taken as signs of increasing numbers of leopards. It was thought that they were making forays outside their territories which are unable to support their rising numbers. But the situation is exactly the opposite. Human habitations have so much expanded and encroached into the forests that wild animals have been forced to come out looking for sustenance. This man-animal conflict has been created by the human beings. Leopards also suffer because they live not far away from human habitations.

Leopard conservation should receive greater atten-tion now. There are measures to protect tigers. As poaching of tigers is becoming more difficult, poachers are turning towards leopards. They are now passing off the body parts of leopards as those of tigers. There is increasing evidence of this. The conservation strategies have to be different in the case of leopards, and they should also be aimed at raising awareness among
people who live in villages close to the animals’ habitats. The declining trend should be reversed.

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