More than a third of the 40 leopards that died in the country in the first month of 2018 were killed by poachers. Of these 15 were poached (38%), three died in road and rail accidents, two were killed by villagers and 15 were found dead , revealed data from the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI).
In 2017, there were 431 leopard deaths, of which 159 were poached and 63 were casualties of road and rail accidents.
Of 436 leopard deaths in 2016, natural causes killed 282 and 154 were killed by poachers.
More than 1,600 spotted cats have been killed by poachers in the past decade, according to WPSI.
In January most deaths were recorded in Uttarakhand with 12 deaths and four poaching cases, followed by Maharashtra with seven deaths and two poaching cases, Uttar Pradesh (UP) recorded four deaths and Andhra Pradesh (AP) three. Other states like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh (MP), Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh (HP) and Tamil Nadu (TN), all recorded at least one death.
These cats are protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. According to the countrywide survey conducted in 2014, which also happens to be the first-ever leopard count in the country, there are 12,000 to 14,000 leopards in India.
“The leopard population in the country is high as compared to other countries, and natural deaths are bound to happen. However, what is alarming is the rate at which poaching continues across the country. Over the past decade, poaching incidents have accounted for around 38-40% of the total deaths for leopards,” said Tito Joseph, programme coordinator, WPSI. “There is need for better planning and joint action, not just at the policy level, but on the ground, to ensure core forest areas are not easily accessible to the public. Better protocol in urban areas to ensure man-animal conflict is controlled, and developmental projects are planned without disturbing the habitat of these large carnivores.”
MS Negi, additional general of forests, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) said, “As the human population is growing, fragmentation of forests is increasing in many states, primarily Uttarakhand and Maharashtra. As result of the latter, the prey within forest areas is reducing and the predator is moving closer to urban patches. Leopards are not under threat as such, but we are giving priority to their protection as well. We have already directed to state forest departments accordingly and funds are being dispensed to ensure this habitat fragmentation is controlled and such cases are reduced.”
Former principal chief conservator of forests, Uttar Pradesh, Umendra Sharma says, “Similar to tiger and elephants conservation measures, leopards need to be monitored closely and the prey base needs to be concentrated to certain specific locations within forest areas, restricting them from venturing to urban spaces. This way, their population can be controlled, habitat safeguarded and man animal conflict can be reduced.”
“As far as protected forest areas go, conservation of leopards is in tune with the tigers,” said Anish Andheria, president, Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT). “70% of leopards in India are living within tiger habitats, which are protected areas and will remain safeguarded. The challenge is the remaining 30% that are in human-dominated landscapes, where we need better strategies to live with these big cats by moderating human behavior and being more sensitive towards these species.” (Hindustan Times)