India’s Leopards In A Spot Of Trouble
October 31, 2012: According to a recent study by TRAFFIC India, titled ‘Illuminating the Blind Spot: A study on illegal trade in leopard parts in India’, at least four leopards have been poached weekly for the illegal wildlife trade in India for no less than a decade. The study documents seizures of leopard body parts, reports of poaching incidents, and outlines regions as both source and supply points for the terrible trade.
Photograph by Baiju Patil.
Some shocking statistics regarding the undetected illegal trade in leopard parts across the Indian subcontinent are revealed in the study, which records for a total of 420 seizures of leopard skins, accounting for almost 90 per cent of the total reported crimes, along with several incidents of seizures of other body parts, like bones, widely prescribed in traditional Asian medicine as a substitute for tiger parts.
Seizures were reported from as many as 209 localities in 21 out of 35 territories in India between 2001 and 2010. Statistical analysis was used to estimate a reasonable level of unreported trade, and the findings show that an astounding 2,294 leopards – an average of four animals per week – were trafficked in India over the ten year period.
Uttarakhand emerged as a major source of leopard parts for sale, while Delhi was found to be at the epicenter of the trade, along with adjacent areas in Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. Dr. Rashid Raza, Coordinator with TRAFFIC India, and the lead author of the study, said, “Even though reports of illegal trade in leopard body parts are disturbingly frequent, the level of threat to leopards in the country has previously been unrecognised.”
It is believed that most leopard parts that are sourced in India are smuggled out of the country into other parts of Asia, often via the porous border with neighbouring Nepal. They are then sold in regions of Myanmar, northern Laos and ethnic Tibetan regions of China, as indicated by earlier investigations on the subject.
The study additionally makes recommendations to reverse this disturbing trend, calling for the establishment of a Task Force to tackle illegal leopard trade in high-risk areas, as well as better regional cooperation between source, transit and market countries through initiatives like the South Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN).
What India most direly needs is an official database to conduct further investigations into and monitor the levels of this devastating sector. By assessing the levels of man-leopard conflict and implementing mitigation measures, especially alternative lifestyles and community conservancy programmes, we can nip the problem in the bud before our populations of these graceful, spotted cats are completely decimated.
Source: Sanctuary Asia