In the hill state, many want their children to be ‘sher dil’ (as brave as a tiger), but this is costing leopards dear.
Call it superstition or traditional belief, the desire to foster a strong heart has contributed to the poaching of not less than 12 leopards in Uttarakhand this year, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI).
Why were these leopards killed? Apparently, for their skin, bones, teeth, nails and whiskers.
Typically, it is children who are made to wear leopard tooth. And the animal’s nails and whiskers are used in occult practices. Eventually, the skin too ends up as someone’s rug – after a long trip abroad.
What's more, leopard nail is peddled as bringer of good luck. This year 43 leopard skins and 21.5 kg bones were seized from various parts of state.
The latest victim was a robust young female — just one-and-a-half-year-old — who, the authorities claimed on Thursday, died of cold and hunger. One of her paws was missing, but that crucial bit of information was missing in the initial report. The authorities admitted it only after some careful questioning.
"It is extremely disheartening to know that the state government isn't doing anything to conserve the leopard population," said Tito Joseph, programme officer of WPSI, a Delhi-based non-government organisation.
"There are various gangs behind this crime in the hill state. The forest department should develop intelligence to crack this local nexus, or the leopard population will disappear."
The nexus, though, appears to be thriving. Forest department data shows that from 2002 to 2012, altogether 686 leopard mortality cases were reported. Of these, nearly 150 were killed by poachers. "This year, 35 people were arrested in connection with leopard poaching in the state," said Paramjit Singh, director, anti-poaching cell.
SK Dutta, additional principal chief conservator of forest, wildlife administration, said.
"We have tightened the noose over Dharchula border so that animal parts cannot be smuggled to China. But smugglers have now found an alternate route through Bihar."