The first two months of the year have been deadly for leopards in India as 92 big cats were poached, poisoned, killed by mobs and forest guards and met with accidental deaths during this period. Leopards belong to the Schedule -1 species, under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 and need the highest level of protection. Sadly, despite so much noise being made over their protection, the poachers managed to kill 36 leopards and 12 others fell prey to mobs.
A host of others were found dead under mysterious circumstances, run over on roads and died during rescue operations etc. The Pioneer obtained these figures from the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI).
Uttarakhand tops the list of the maximum leopard fatalities, with 42 deaths being recorded in the State. There were also seizures of 14 leopard skins and 8.8 kgs of bones in the State.
Madhya Pradesh stands at a distant second with a total of nine leopard deaths. Four of them were poached.
SS Sharma, Chief Wildlife Warden of Uttarakhand said that the hilly State has 65 per cent forest cover and nearly 2,000 leopards, hence the incidents of leopard-human conflict are more rampant here.
“Out of the 42 cases of leopard deaths in the State at least eight to ten were a result of revenge killing by the local communities. During the same period, leopards also killed 11 people,” he said. “Growing human pressure, fragmentation of their habitat, scarcity of water and prey in the forests are also compelling the leopard to venture out in open every now and then,” he added. “The need of the hour is to take the issue of leopard conservation seriously and evolve long-term strategies”, pointed out Tito Joseph, Programme Manager, WPSI.
The situation has been alarming for the last three-four years, with 325 leopard mortalities being reported on an average, each year. “There is an urgent need to take up studies on its actual population status and its prey base,” Joseph added.
The Environment Ministry had come out with specific guidelines in 2011 on how to tackle the incidents of man-leopard conflicts. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) recently released Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to deal with incidents of big cats straying into human habitats. This includes leopards as well.
However, according to experts, these guidelines are not being implemented at the ground level.
“The State is also very vulnerable to poaching as it is close to the borders of Nepal which is a hub of illegal wildlife trade,” said Vidya Athreya, a biologist in the Wildlife Conservation Society, who is working on leopard conservation. “Conflict levels have accelerated and people are losing their tolerance”, pointed out Prerna Singh Bindra, member of National Board For Wildlife. “There are reports of leopards being beaten, stoned and even burnt to death. Yet, there is no strategy in place to mitigate and address conflict or tackle poaching”, she regretted.