40 leopards killed in January this year, one third of them by poachers | Hindustan Times
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40 leopards killed in January this year, one third of them by poachers

More than a third of them were poached, according to the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

india Updated: Jan 31, 2018 22:36 IST
Badri Chatterjee
A team of police and forest officials rescue a leopard after tranquilising it in Thane, Maharashtra.
A team of police and forest officials rescue a leopard after tranquilising it in Thane, Maharashtra.(Praful Gangurde/HT File Photo)

More than a third of the 40 leopards that died in the country in the first month of this year were killed by poachers.

Of the 40-odd deaths in January, 15 were poached (38%), three died in road and rail accidents, two were killed by villagers and 15 were found dead, revealed data from the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI).

In 2017, there were 431 leopard deaths, of which 159 were poached and 63 were casualties of road and rail accidents.

Of 436 leopard deaths in 2016, natural causes killed 282 and 154 were killed by poachers.

More than 1,600 leopards have been killed by poachers in the past decade, according to WPSI.

Most deaths were recorded at Uttarakhand with 12 deaths and four poaching cases, followed by Maharashtra with seven deaths and two poaching cases, Uttar Pradesh recorded four deaths and Andhra Pradesh, three.

Other states like Chhattisgarh, MP, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, all recorded at least one leopard death in January.

Leopards are protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. According to a country-wide census conducted in 2015, which also happens to be the first-ever leopard count, there are between 12,000 to 14,000 leopards in the country.

“The leopard population in India is high as compared to other countries, and natural deaths are bound to happen. However, what is alarming is the rate at which poaching continues across the country. Over the past decade, poaching incidents have accounted for around 38-40% of the total deaths for leopards,” said Tito Joseph, programme coordinator, WPSI. “There is need for better planning and joint action, not just at the policy level, but on the ground, to ensure core forest areas are not easily accessible to the public. Better protocol in urban areas to ensure man-animal conflict is controlled, and developmental projects are planned without disturbing the habitat of these large carnivores.”

MS Negi, additional general of forests, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) said, “With a growing population for this species, there is fragmentation of forests in many states, primarily Uttarakhand and Maharashtra. As a result of the latter, the prey base within forest areas is reducing and the animal is moving closer to urban patches. The animal is not under threat as such, but we are giving priority to its protection. We have already directed state forest departments and funds dispensed to ensure that this habitat fragmentation is controlled and such cases reduced.”

Experts said the Centre needs to focus on keeping the animals in the forest, explaining that increasing contact with humans is causing deaths. “Similar to tiger and elephant conservation measures, leopards need to be monitored closely and the prey base needs to be concentrated to certain specific locations within forest areas, restricting them from venturing to urban spaces. This way, their population can be controlled, habitat can be safeguarded, and man-animal conflict can be reduced,” said Umendra Sharma, former principal chief conservator of forest, UP.

“As far as protected forest areas go, conservation of leopards is in tune with tigers,” said Anish Andheria, president, Wildlife Conservation Trust. “70% of the leopard population in India lives within tiger habitats, which are protected spaces and will remain safeguarded. The challenge is the remaining 30% that are in human-dominated landscapes, where we need better strategies to live with these big cats by moderating human behaviour, and being more sensitive towards these species.”

Joseph pointed out that the ‘Living with Leopards’ model being followed in Mumbai Metropolitan Region needs to be replicated across the country to control man-animal conflicts in urban areas. On January 13, a male leopard strayed into a residential society in Mulund (East) in Mumbai and attacked five people. While the injuries were minor, a four-hour rescue operation and crowd control by the forest department saw the animal tranquilised and rushed to safety. On December 10, a similar incident was reported from a society in Andheri (East), where a 12-hour rescue operation ensured the animal was rescued and untoward situations avoided.