Odisha losing its leopards to random poaching 

Wildlife activists lay emphasis on improving conviction rate  

April 10, 2022 08:47 pm | Updated 08:47 pm IST - BHUBANESWAR

Leopard and deer skins seized in Ganjam district of Odisha.

Leopard and deer skins seized in Ganjam district of Odisha. | Photo Credit: special arrangment

Odisha’s Special Task Force (STF) and Forest department have together seized closed to 45 leopard skins in past two years. It indicates that 5% of the State’s leopard population has already been poached. The analysis of poaching cases reveals that the killings of big cats is taking place not only at the instance of organised crime networks, but majorly due to random hunting. 

Ever since the STF of State Crime Branch has been assigned to go after wildlife offenders, the number of detection of poaching cases has gone up. The STF on its own has seized 26 leopards skins in the last two years.  

“As we are pursuing wildlife crime cases diligently, the flow of intelligence inputs has been seamless. In 30% cases, we found criminals trading leopard skins connected to organised crimes while 70% of the cases were random killings,” Jai Narayan Pankaj, STF head and Deputy Inspector General of Police, told this reporter.  

He said, “wildlife crimes shot up sharply during the two years of COVID-19. Those residing in forest areas are involved in poaching and trading. They wait for the opportune time to trade off the leopard skins and earn quick money .”  

The STF chief said there was a local market available for leopard skins, unlike in elephant tusk trade. “We do have competent agencies that can investigate thoroughly and trace the links between local traders and international wildlife crime networks,” he said.  

‘Tip of the iceberg’

The leopard population in Odisha is estimated at 800. “The current seizure of skins is just tip of the iceberg. Actual poaching of animals could be five times more. I suspect Odisha must have lost more than 200 animals during COVID time,” said Biswajit Mohanty, a wildlife activist.  

Mr. Mohanty said, “the State government must come up with an action plan to reverse the trend. The tiger population in Odisha is dwindling due to absence of strong action against criminals. We may soon confront a scenario where the State would be stripped off its leopard population.”  

This week the State forest department arrested seven persons who were openly bargaining for a leopard skin at Karanjia bus terminal in Mayurbhanj district. Two more skins were found from three intermediaries in Deogarh district.  

In Samantiapalli Range under Berhampur Forest Division, two leopard skins were seized by the forest department staff while one person was arrested for his alleged involvement in the trade last week.  

The STF and the forest department have so far come across poachers involved in leopard skin trade in 17 out of the 30 districts of the State. In Nayagarh district in 2020, the STF had arrested a college lecturer who played a role in leopard skin trade. Similarly, one Panchayat Samiti member in Nayagarh was found selling leopard body parts.  

‘Appoint special lawyers’

“There is no fear among wildlife offenders. The prosecution is weak and conviction is low even in the cases of Schedule I animals. In many cases offenders are going scot free. The State Forest department must think of appointing special lawyers so that the cases reach logical end and the conviction rate goes up,” said the wildlife activist.  

It is alleged that the wildlife crime cell set up by forest department has been lying defunct and tip offs go unanswered. A senior police officer said although forest department has massive manpower, it hardly gets information from the ground while in few years the STF has bettered its striking rate.  

Till date, the STF has seized as many as 26 leopard skins, 15 elephant tasks, 7 deer skins, 11 live pangolins, 23.5 kg of pangolin scales and body parts of leopards. As many as 61 criminals have been arrested.  

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