With the dwindling tiger population, poachers are increasingly on the prowl for the country’s other big cat. And if figures are anything to go by, the leopard will soon beat the tiger in the extinction race. More than 70 leopards were killed across the country in the first three months of this year. And as many as 290 leopards were killed last year, nearly twice as many as the 157 in 2008 according to records available with the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
But wildlifers said the figure could be higher. Some say that up to 500 leopards are killed yearly in India, which has an estimated population of around 8,000 leopards. “Poachers have shifted focus to leopards because they are near-perfect substitutes for tigers’s body parts,” said wildlife activist Jaswant Singh Kalair. Wildlife activists have demanded a dedicated conservation program — on the lines of Project Tiger — for leopards. But so far, forest authorities have not taken any initiative. “Like Project Tiger, a dedicated conservation program for leopards is a must. Poaching of leopards needs to be checked to ensure they don’t face extinction,” said another activist.
A leopard skin sells for Rs 25,000 in the local black market. In big cities, the price goes up to Rs 50,000 and in the international market, it can fetch Rs 100,000.
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