Environmentalists and wildlife experts said they were alarmed by a new study which has reported 93 leopard deaths — a very high number — from across the country in just the first two months of 2018. Most of the big cats were felled by poachers for their skin and other body parts. Uttarakhand topped the list with 24 deaths, followed by Maharashtra (18) and Rajasthan (11). Incidents of mortality were reported from 18 states in all.
According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), which compiled the data, most leopard deaths were due to poaching as evident from seizures of leopard hides and body parts. Only 12 of the big cats died of natural causes.
According to Tito Joseph, programme head of WPSI, “The number is unusually high. It’s a bad start in terms of wildlife conservation. We will soon release more data.” WPSI said there were 23 cases in which hides, skulls and claws were seized.
WPSI said eight leopards died in road or train accidents in January and February this year even as five were killed by villagers and seven of fighting with other leopards. Five more were killed by tigers or other animals. Two of them died in rescue operations or treatments, and one due to electrocution. One was shot dead by a police official in Lucknow.
Beside this, four leopards were rescued alive from smugglers in Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, WPSI said.
Even though the Indian leopard is listed as “vulnerable” and is in the IUCN Red List – protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 – it largely remains ignored in terms of conservation efforts. Leopard deaths – some 131 died last year in the same time period – have begun to assume alarming proportions.
S Satya Kumar, an expert who is conducting a study on man-leopard conflict in Uttarakhand, said, “The numbers, if genuine, sound alarmingly dangerous.”
Asked about 24 leopard deaths in Uttarakhand in the first two months of the year, the highest in the country, state forest officials said they recorded only seven deaths in January. Dhananjay Mohan, additional principal chief conservator of forests, Uttarakhand, said, “We have seven deaths reported in the month of January. Also, compiling data is a complex process which takes a lot of time. It is being compiled.”
The first ever count of India’s leopards, conducted alongside the 2014 tiger census, had put the spotted cat population at 7,910 in and around tiger habitats across the country, except the northeast. (Times of India – 06-03-2018)