Like tigers, endangered leopards too are battling for survival with as many as 160 already dead so far, since this January in the country, against 290 last year.

The trend is not recent phenomenon. In the last 12 years since 1994, India has lost at least 3,189 leopards, according to an estimate by an NGO, Wildlife Protection of India (WPSI).

A member of the Felidae family and the smallest of the four “big cats” in the genus Panthera, the other three being the tiger, lion and jaguar, the leopard count is estimated to be between 7,000 to 10,000 in the country.

In India, the leopard is protected under Schedule-I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

“Also, as it is easy to trap leopards, the wildlife smugglers find them as perfect replacement for tigers to feed the illicit global demand for big cat skins along with the bones for use in traditional medicine in countries like China,” says WPSI head Belinda Wright.

Leopard coats and trimmings are also used for traditional dances and festivals, and are sold quite openly in Tibet. The frequent seizures have established this link.

In March, two leopard skins were seized in Hapur in west Uttar Pradesh by the state’s Special Task Force. Two traders were arrested who confessed of their plans to sell them out of the country.

In yet another raid conducted by Tamil Nadu Forest Department in Hosur during the year, two leopard skins were recovered and three persons, including one who reportedly confessed to poaching the animals, were apprehended.

The gun used to kill the leopards was recovered too.

“This shows that the poachers are active in killing the animal and selling them through wildlife trade,” a senior official from Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) said.

The Central Bureau of Investigations’ wildlife crime cell has estimated that for every tiger skin, there are at least seven leopard skins in the haul. In 2004, a seizure in Tibet of 31 tiger skins yielded 581 leopard skins.

Apart from shrinking forests, adaptive migration nature of the predatory felines is bringing them towards human habitats resulting in severe man-animal conflict.

For instance, a total of 74 straying leopards were caged from the revenue area surrounding Gir in Gujarat in 2007.

However, many are not lucky enough to survive, given that the conflict has assumed alarming proportion so much so that angry villagers bay for their blood.

Given that as many as 62 people were killed by cats between 1990-2001 in Pauri-Garwal itself speaks of the tragic fate that awaits to this shy and solitary animal.