Leopards are fast losing the battle of survival in Madhya Pradesh. More than 140 leopards died in the period between 2008 and 2013, as per information accessed under the Right to Information Act.
Wildlife experts feel that given the increasing instances of man-animal conflict, these spotted cats will soon vanish from the forests in the state. Unlike the attention for tiger conservation, leopards do not enjoy the same status from various stakeholders.
Thirty-one leopards died in the last one year alone, the experts said, adding that the maximum deaths (43) were reported in 2011. "No official countrywide population estimate is available. However, within the 17 tiger bearing states of India, the leopard occupies an area of around 1,74,066 km2, nearly double the area occupied by the tiger," the WWF-India says on its website.
It is not just villages where these predators are straying into. There have been rise in sighting of leopard in urban spaces like Indore, Jabalpur and outskirts of Bhopal.
Last Wednesday, a CCTV captured the footage of a stray leopard in Narsinghpur district. Last month, residents of Indore spend sleepless nights after a spotted cat was said to have strayed into a residential area. Leopard sightings are also being reported in Jabalpur from last few days.
The leopard (scientific name Panthera pardus) is the smallest of the four 'big cats' after the tiger, the lion and the jaguar. They tolerate human presence better than the other three big cats.
The leopard is known for its ability to adapt in a variety of habitats, from deserts to mountainous terrains, from swamps and thick rainforests to open grasslands.
These spotted cats often come into conflict with humans when predating on livestock, especially during drought or when the leopard's natural prey becomes scarce.
Shrinking habitat and growing human population increase the leopard-man conflict, which in turn increases the chances of retaliatory killings and poaching.
Apart from becoming victims of poaching, retaliatory killings and road hits account for the casualties. On September 24 last year, a vehicle ran over a leopard in Raisen district, nearly 80 km from Bhopal, while it was dragging a half-eaten cow.
In November, a female leopard was electrocuted in South Ukawa forest range of Balaghat district. In the same month, an eight-year-old leopard was found dead in West Baihar forest range in Balaghat district.
Three persons were arrested by the forest department for electrocuting a leopard in Umaria district. In December last year, a male leopard was found dead in Badwara forest range of Katni district.
Leopards enjoy protection in India under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 as they are listed in Schedule I of the Act. Permission to kill leopards is given in the case of man-eaters only. But they still get killed in significant numbers, prompting the wildlife activists to stress for a Project Leopard for saving leopards.
Bandhavgarh-based wildlife conservationist Pushpendra Diwedi told Hindustan Times over the phone that in the last four months, two leopards have been killed by electrocution in the forests of Umaria district.
"Unless there is a project for leopards on the lines of the Project Tiger, you cannot save leopards in the long run. Also, there is inadequate monitoring and patrolling of wildlife because less numbers of forest staff. Besides, poaching cases need to be actively followed and culprits punished," he said.