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  Indian Leopards are in Distress

    The population of Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) was once widely distributed in the Indian subcontinent. The species was distributed in the tropical rain forests, dry deciduous forests, temperate forests and northern coniferous forest of India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and part of Pakistan. It is amongst the five big cats found in India apart from Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, snow leopard and clouded leopard. Once the species was very common and found in most part of the country. Because of its ever shrinking habitats and the resulting conflicts with human along with the high market demand for its body part especially skin, the population has been sharply dwindling all across its habitat. This had pushed its status listed as near threatened by IUCN in 2008.  Leopard is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, India. The species is also listed in CITES Appendix I.

 Leopard Population in India :

In India, based on pugmark censuses (a methodology which has been criticized as inaccurate), 9,844 leopards were estimated in 2001. Many populations are believed to be increasing (Singh 2005), as there are high levels of human-leopard conflict (Singh et al. 2008). Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have more than 1,000 leopards and account for a high population followed by Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, the Southern States, Rajasthan, Orissa and Assam.

Threats :

The Indian leopards are threatened by loss and fragmentation of habitat, population isolation and inbreeding, conflicts with human (Retaliatory killings), poaching and competition with other predators. More than 3189 leopards were killed since 1994 to October 2010 (Source : Wildlife Protection Society of India). For every tiger skin, there are at least seven leopard skins in the haul. At least four leopards are poached every week in India.  A study on illegal trade in Leopard parts in estimates that around 2,294 leopards have been trafficked in India during the 10-year span.

 Leopard population in Assam :

As per the last census studies carried out by the Assam state Forest department the leopard population in Assam was 239 in 1993 and 248 in 2001. (Source, PCCF Wildlife, Assam) However unofficial sources estimate a bigger population in the state. Threats are obviously same with the mainland Indian habitat of this species with sharply growing conflicts with human. The period starting with the last decade has been observed to be reported with very high conflicts and resulting a sizable number of leopard causalities.

 

Consequences of Human Leopard Conflict

Threats :

 The Indian leopards are threatened by loss and fragmentation of habitat, population isolation and inbreeding, conflicts with human (Retaliatory killings), poaching and competition with other predators. More than 3189 leopards were killed since 1994 to October 2010 (Source : Wildlife Protection Society of India). For every tiger skin, there are at least seven leopard skins in the haul. At least four leopards are poached every week in India.  A study on illegal trade in Leopard parts in estimates that around 2,294 leopards have been trafficked in India during the 10-year span. 

Threats in Assam :

In Assam the major threat to the Indian leopards is the increasing Human Leopard Conflict. Due to speedy shrinking of habitat and sharp decline in prey population in the state the animal are forced to enter the human use area resulting wide spread conflicts. Consequences of which have been obviously the frequent deaths of the species along with development of negative attitude towards the animal because of loss of domesticated animals and human injury even sometimes death. Although there is no official record available on conflicts deaths of leopards, unofficial reports put the figure at around 80 between 2005 and 2012. As many as 29 leopards were killed during 2008, mostly from the district of Jorhat which was highest in last ten years. In 2011 seven leopards were killed alone in Dibrugarh district and over 15 leopards were killed in the year 2012 mostly from the upper Assam Districts. During the first three months of the current year (2013), 7 leopards have already been killed in various districts of Assam and 4 leopards were rescued from conflict areas by the forest department as reported by the media.

 

Role of the government in reducing human leopard conflict :

 The government’s effort for both in offering protection to leopard and controlling conflicts has been appeared to be very little so far. Proper studies to understand the situation and gathering baseline information have been greatly lacking.  The high leopard–human conflicts in recent years had unfolded the deteriorating conservation status of the species in Assam. Despite of high level of conflicts and concern shown by the conservationist no concrete action has been seen to be taken by the government agencies.   Lack of information database, effective management plan, required infrastructure & trained personnel and poor awareness at all level are some of the major factors in offering necessary protection to the species.

 

 
 
 
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