New Delhi: With 460 leopard deaths, India in 2018 recorded the highest mortality rate of the particular big cat species across the country in the past four years, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) said on Monday.
According to official records, a total of 431 leopards died in 2017. These included 159 incidents of poaching. Some 450 big cats died in 2016 and 127 of them were found poached. In 2015 (399) and in 2014 (331) died.
“The highest leopard mortality rate was recorded in Uttarakhand with 93 deaths. This is followed by Maharashtra (90), Rajasthan (46), Madhya Pradesh (37), Uttar Pradesh (27), Karnataka (24), and Himachal Pradesh (23) among others,” WPSI programme coordinator Tito Joseph told IANS.
“Poaching, road accidents, and human-animal conflict are the main reasons for this increased mortality rate. In 2018 only, 29 leopards were killed by villagers and eight leopards considered to be maneaters were killed by the forest department workers,” he said.
Mortality is a category when a leopard or tiger is found dead due to diseases or unknown causes, shot by forest department or police, killed by villagers, killed in road or train accident, killed in rescue operation or during treatment, infighting, accidental electrocution.
Earlier, IANS reported that as many as 106 leopards died in the first two months of 2018 in forests across the country — a number that conservationists and officials said was “alarmingly high”.
Union Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan had on March 9 informed the Parliament that his ministry was aware of the deaths and that the matter was being dealt with.
Leopards have been targeted by poachers for their hides and other body parts. However, habitat loss, especially due to farming, has posed a new threat to them.
According to experts involved in tracking the illegal wildlife trade, an animal skin changes a lot of hands before it reaches a possible market in China where it can fetch around Rs 50 lakh — sometimes even higher than that.
The Indian leopard is listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. It is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.