February 20th, 2011
With the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) working overtime to protect the tiger population, poachers have now shifted their attention to killing leopards and selling their body parts as tiger parts.
The states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh are the epicentre of this illicit trade and the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) confirms that over 291 leopard deaths were reported in India in 2010. Another 235 and 201 leopards were killed in 2009 and 2008 respectively.
Conservationists conclude that for every tiger killed, there are 10 leopard deaths. The scale of the killing can be estimated from the fact that recently the skins of over 1,200 dead leopard were captured in Ghaziabad.
A senior researcher in WPSI believes this is just the tip of the iceberg and with the illicit international demand for big cat skins and body parts on the rise, the leopard could soon be extinct like the cheetah.
He expressed surprise that while the government has been pursuing a tiger census with great seriousness, while no effort has been made to conduct a leopard census to arrive at the exact number existing within and outside protected areas.
Figures released by the MoEF in 2008 show that there are not more than 11,000 leopards left in the country.
“Leopards live on the periphery of the forests and that makes them more vulnerable,” a senior forest official in the MoEF pointed out. With a declining prey base, leopards are being forced to move to places of high human density where they feed on domestic animals and dogs.
When it attacks livestock, it faces a backlash with communities in and around forest areas supporting poaching and the poisoning of leopards.