Uttarakhand has done well in tiger conservation but it has become a death zone for leopards, with 286 big cats being killed in the state over the past three years.
According to the All India Tiger Estimation 2014-15 released on Tuesday, the state’s tiger count rose by 113 to 340, second only to Karnataka (406).
In contrast, Uttarakhand has recorded the most leopard deaths - it accounted for 64 of the 328 deaths in 2014, against 46 in Rajasthan and 41 in Maharshtra, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI).
The number of leopard deaths in the state in 2013 and 2012 were 119 and 103, respectively.
In 2014, five leopards were killed by poachers and as many by villagers. Three leopards were electrocuted while 14 were found dead, WPSI said.
“Leopards are widely spread in the state. So, a conflict is not restricted to certain pockets but is spread across (a wide area). There’s a lack of prey in the wild, forcing the species to enter human habitation and leading to conflict. Presently, leopards are feeding on subsidised prey like cattle and dogs,” Bivash Pandav, a scientist with WPSI, told Hindustan Times.
Wildlife activists believe that habitat degradation and the lack of a conservation strategy are the main reasons behind the death of leopards.
“Unless we have specific programmes for conservation, we cannot reduce the increasing human-leopard conflict,” said Harendra Singh Bargali, the deputy director of Corbett Foundation.
Some experts even blame the deaths on the carelessness of the forest department. Tito Joseph, a programme manager with WPSI, said: “The state forest department should be proactive in conserving leopards too. Fifty per cent of conflicts in Uttarakhand are an outcome of leopard-human encounters. There’s hardly anything being done to resolve this issue.”