Tigers scarce, poachers zero in on leopards, warns Indian conservationist

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2008:
NEW DELHI–Poachers who cannot find tigers to kill and
traffickers who have increasing difficulty moving tiger parts from
India to customers in Nepal and China are turning their notice to
leopards, warns Wildlife Protection Society of India program manager
Tito Joseph.
“Tiger parts fetch a price 20 times higher than those of
leopards,” Joseph told The Times of India on September 7, 2008 “but
their bones are considered on par.”
Compounding the situation, leopards are coming into
increasingly frequent and deadly conflict with humans–partly because
more desperately poor people are taking the risk of moving into their
habitat, partly too because more hungry leopards are coming into
villages to hunt livestock.


The preferred prey of Indian leopards include hog deer and
chital, but the prey species are in decline in many regions due to
agricultural expansion into former forest.
“A declining prey base has lured leopards to human
settlements,” Joseph told Times News Network reporter Neha Shukla on
September 28, after a leopard dragged a nine-year-old girl from her
hut and killed her in Doodhnathpurwa village, in the Katarniaghat
forest near Lucknow.
Leopards have recently killed eight people in the
Katarniaghat forest, seven of them since December 2007, said Shukla.
Street dogs formerly kept leopards out of Indian villages,
but the success of federally subsidized Animal Birth Control programs
have thinned the dog population in some areas to the point that
leopards can creep in and kill dogs without rousing a pack.
Joseph said that 125 Indian leopards were known to have been
poached during the first nine months of 2008, after 124 were poached
in all of 2007.
“From the border outposts of north Bengal to the small towns
of Uttarakhand to the remote forest-rich district of Gondia in
Maharashtra, 27 leopard skins have been seized in the past 45 days,”
wrote Avijit Ghosh of the Times News network on September 13, 2008.
“Organized poachers are networking with wildlife traders in
India, Nepal and China. Most of these killings took place in
Uttarakhand, Himachal, Maharashtra and Karnataka,” Joseph said.
“Although leopards are killed across the country, the threat
is much larger in northern India,” added WCCB deputy director Ramesh
Pandey.
According to official estimates, India had about 1,650 wild
tigers and 12,000 wild leopards at the start of 2008. India has
dedicated conservation programs for tigers and elephants, but
leopards are only protected by the same general measures that pertain
to all other wildlife.
High-volume leopard poaching has also recently come to light
in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, reported Tony Carnie of The Mercury
on September 5, 2008.
“Police are hunting for a Jozini man linked to the slaughter
of at least 120 leopards, whose distinctive spotted pelts often
adorn the shoulders of the Zulu royal family and other dignitaries,”
Currie wrote.
“The man was arrested four years ago,” Currie recalled,
“when police found the remains of 64 leopard skins, which were in
the process of being tailored into traditional attire. Though he was
eventually convicted of several serious wildlife crimes, he never
went to jail. Three weeks ago police found the remnants of another
64 leopards at his home, along with skins from several civet cats,
10 suni antelope, 30 samango monkeys, a wildebeest and five grey
duiker.”
The suspect is believed to poach wildlife by using common
agricultural pesticides to poison carcasses set out as bait.
Predicted Currie, “The case is likely to revive debate about
the ceremonial display of protected animal skins by Zulu nobility and
the degree to which this drives wildlife crime.”
While the animals’ pelts were used to make garmets, other
remains are believed to have been used for muti, involved in
traditional religious and medical practices.

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