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Poachers prowl for leopard parts



The Pioneer, New Delhi, 13th November, 2014


 Karnataka has emerged as a major route for illegal trade in leopard parts with Central India turning into a “hub” for leopard poaching. As many as 3,968 leopard body parts were seized by the country’s enforcement agencies during 1994-2013, which is nearly four times higher than seizures of tiger parts.


The findings of a study — Tracing the Geographic Origin of Traded Leopard Body Parts in the Indian Subcontinent — on seized wildlife products suggests that leopard poaching could be far more rampant than earlier believed — certainly more than tiger poaching — and it threatens to change their population dynamics, their behaviour and sex ratios.


The study is based on researches by scientists from National Centre for Biological Sciences, Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) and other institutes. The techniques applied in the study served to identify origins of seized illegal wildlife products and trade routes at the subcontinent scale and beyond.


“There is a high demand for leopard body parts in the Southeast Asian illegal wildlife market because leopard parts are easy to pass off as tiger parts,” says the paper.


This probably represents just a fraction of the total scale of leopard poaching in India as Custom authorities generally assume seizures represent only about 10 per cent of existing contraband, it adds.


According to co-author Sanjay Gubbi of NCF, central India being already notorious for illegal wildlife trade, vigilance has been stepped up in the region. Hence, Karnataka has emerged has major route for both hoarding and transporting wildlife parts.


In another interesting find, scientists found that most of the seized parts belonged to male leopards. The paper, however, notes that even if this trend does not point to “male-biased poaching,” it may indicate “a male-preferred illegal trade” for their comparatively larger pelt or skin.Male leopards also tend to come in greater conflict with humans and are more likely to be killed, the paper adds.


In the course of the study, researchers genetically analysed scat and blood samples collected from 173 leopards across the country. Along with this, they also reviewed 40 leopard skin to infer their geographic origins.“We found that confiscated pelts seized in small numbers were not necessarily from local leopards,” say the researchers in the paper. Some of the seized leopard pelts had come from as far as 1,506 km away.