India loses 176 leopards in three months

| | New Delhi

In the last three months, India has lost an alarmingly number of 176 leopards with at least one-third of them falling prey to poachers in forests across the country.

According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), till  April 11, 2018, the maximum mortality has been reported from Uttarakhand with 38 deaths followed by Maharashtra (32) and Madhya Pradesh (11). Hill State, Uttarakhand, also topped the charts with highest number of seizures with 10 skins, skin pieces and bones of three leopards.

Tito Jopseph, programme manager at WPSI said that till April  11, 2018, across the country, at least 11 spotted cats were killed by villagers while 26 succumbed to road and train mishaps and 55 were found dead due to various reasons. Overall, mortality has been reported from 22 States. Mortality is a category when a leopard or tiger is found dead due to diseases or unknown causes, shot by forest department or police, killed by villagers, killed in road or train accident, killed in rescue operation or during treatment, infighting, accidental electrocution.

According to official records, a total of 431 leopards died in 2017. These included 159 incidents of poaching. Some 450 big cats died in 2016 and 127 of them were found poached for their expensive hide and other body parts. YV Jhala, a senior scientist from the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII), said the mortality could actually be higher because the available figure is what could be detected or reported.

Wildlife activists say that degradation of leopard habitat, encroachment and lack of prey base in forest are taking toll on the existence of the leopards, prompting them to go for killing in the human habitats. Hence not only they are target for organized poachers as their skin and body parts are sold at huge prices in the illegal market, unorganized poachers like villagers or nomads also look for them to remove their parts like nail and canine after their death.  They say that for every tiger skin, there are at least seven leopard skins in the haul. The first ever count of leopards was conducted alongside tiger census in 2015 by the WII which put the predators’ population at 7,910 in and around tiger habitats across the country. However, as Northeast and areas outside the tiger reserves were not included, the wildlife experts estimate the number of leopards to be around 9,000 across 17 states. The Indian leopard is listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. It is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.



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