A recent study by TRAFFIC India on the seizure and mortality of ‘common leopards’ ( Panthera pardus fusca ) revealed that of the total of 747 leopard deaths between 2015-2019 in India, 596 were linked to illegal wildlife trade and activities related to poaching.
TRAFFIC is a leading wildlife trade monitoring network across the world and the paper has been authored by Saket Badola, head of the TRAFFIC India office, and Astha Gautam.
“These records indicated that 140 leopards were killed by poachers and their carcasses were recovered from the forest areas, whereas body parts belonging to the equivalent of 456 leopards were seized during various operations by law enforcement agencies during the study period,” said the report published in the latest edition of TRAFFIC India’s newsletter.
The paper titled ‘‘SPOTTED’ in Illegal Wildlife Trade: A Peek into Ongoing Poaching and Illegal Trade of Leopards in India’ also said that the highest numbers of poaching incidents were reported from the States of Uttarakhand and Maharashtra. During the period 2015 to 2019, there were more than 140 cases of seizures of leopard body parts in Uttarakhand, and about 19 incidents where the deaths of these cats could be directly linked to poaching. More than 40 cases of seizure of leopard body parts and 16 cases of poaching were recorded from Maharashtra between 2015 to 2019.
The last formal census on India’s leopards was conducted in 2014, which estimated the population between 12,000 and 14,000. The results of a recent census of leopard sightings are likely to be released soon by the Wildlife Institute of India.
“Among all the derivatives found in illegal wildlife trade, skin remained the most in-demand product, accounting for 69% of all seizures, while derivatives like claws, teeth and bones were also traded. It is also believed that bones of the leopard are possibly traded as tiger bones as they have a larger international demand for traditional medicines,” the report states. Another concern raised in the paper is the incidence of live animal trade involving leopard cubs in seizures in Chennai and in Maharashtra.
Threatened by increasing habitat destruction and human-wildlife conflict around the country arising out of shrinking habitats and illegal trade, experts suggest that more emphasis should be given to the conservation of leopards. The conservation status of common leopards was elevated from ‘Near Threatened’ in 2008 to ‘Vulnerable’ in 2015 by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Dr. Badola said that the plight of leopards in illegal wildlife trade has been highlighted from time to time through investigative reports and studies, and through various wildlife enforcement actions across the country.“However, this has not deterred wildlife smugglers, who are lured by high profits and low risk of detection, to target the species,” he said.