At least one leopard dies every day in India, according to a report released last week by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). Half of those deaths are caused by poachers, who target these magnificent big cats for their skins, claws and other body parts.
The tip of the iceberg
WPSI say that at least 356 Indian leopards died in 2011, with poaching accounting for 52% of all the deaths recorded. However, according to WPSI, these figures are likely to be just a fraction of the real numbers of leopards killed each year in India.
“The cases that we have reported are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Anish Andheria, of Sanctuary Asia, which helped collect the data, “The loss could be three to five times more because most of the incidents happened outside the forest range and also due to improper intelligence gathering.”
Causes of death
Although poaching was the single biggest cause of death in 2011, it appears that other human activities may also play a significant role in leopard mortality. Around 12% of Indian leopards were killed last year as a result of human-leopard conflict, while a further 4% died after unsuccessful attempts to rescue the animals from human threats, such as farmers’ snares. Collisions with vehicles caused 8% of Indian leopard deaths last year, and around 5% of deaths were as a result of interactions with other animals, while the remaining 18% of leopards died from unknown causes.
According to WPSI, 30% of the leopard deaths occurred in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, which is also the state with the highest number of poached tigers.
Leopard deaths continue rising
Despite being protected under India’s Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, the number of Indian leopards killed each year has been rising steadily over the past decade. In addition to the 356 leopards killed in 2011, there were 180 leopard deaths in 2010, 161 in 2009 and 126 in 2007. This year appears to be following a similar trend, with around 70 leopards killed so far in 2012, half by poachers.
World’s leopards under increasing pressure
Despite being listed on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and being protected by law in most range states, leopards continue to be threatened by poaching, illegal trade and habitat loss. All nine subspecies of leopard as classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List.
Read the full article in the Scientific American.
Find out more about the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
View more leopard images on ARKive.
Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author