Pune: The observation that India is losing its leopards faster than any other wild cat will soon be proved true as according to the latest report by the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) 356 leopards died across the country because of various causes last year alone.
The data shows 52 per cent of the deaths were due to poaching.
Since earlier reports show 126 leopards died in 2007, 157 in 2008, 161 in 2009 and 180 in 2010, the latest figures reveal that after 2007 the death rate among the spotted big cats has only increased and that leopards are in greater danger than tigers in the country.
According to the Nagpur forest department's wildlife division, 81 leopard deaths were reported in the state in 2011 compared to 56 in 2010 and 48 in 2009. The deaths, reported in villages near the city, Junnar, Jalgaon, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Hingoli and Ratnagiri, are largely being attributed to poaching.
Of the 356 deaths reported in 2011 countrywide, 41 (12 per cent) deaths were due to conflict with humans, 29 (8 per cent) were due to accidents, 65 (18 per cent) fatalities were ascribed to unknown reasons, and 186 (52 per cent) occurred due to poaching. The report adds that 14 leopards were killed during rescue operations and 21 by other animals.
The data shows that the highest number of deaths was recorded in Uttarakhand; as many as 114 (30 per cent) of the leopard deaths last year occurred in that state.
The many deaths were recorded despite leopards being listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and should enjoy the highest degree of protection.
Tip of the iceberg
According to the forest department, there were fewer than 200 humans injured or killed because of leopard attacks between 2003 and 2012.
"More than one leopard is killed every day. The cases that we have reported are just the tip of the iceberg; the loss could be three to five times more since most of the incidents happened outside the forest range and also due to improper intelligence gathering. Cub mortality due to the absence of the females is not even recorded," said Dr Anish Andheria, Director of Science, Natural History and Photography with Sanctuary Asia, who was instrumental in gathering the information.
According to him, there is a problem of livelihood and degradation of forests, because of which the leopards enter human territory in search of food sources, which are depleting.
Since jungle corridors have been destroyed with builders encroaching into the forest zones, the leopards have nowhere to go and stray into residential areas, only to be beaten to death by people.
"They have created water canals and sugarcane fields in places like Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra, and the cropping land use pattern is changing from traditional to fertiliser farming, because of which the leopards are colonising the areas close to human settlements," said Andheria.
Killing clip draws sharp reactions on net
Last week a video of a leopard being clubbed to death by around 50 villagers in Haryana that was doing the rounds of social networking sites provoked sharp reactions from people and wildlife activists across the world. People expressed great disappointment towards the apathy of the government, which they say has failed to protect its national asset.