Now, Project Leopard for the conservation of leopards in Uttarakhand
There is good news for the wildlife activists in Uttarakhand. Alarmed by the rising number of deaths of leopards in the state, the state forest department is mulling to launch Project Leopard in the state on the pattern of the Elephant Project and the Tiger Conservation Project which are already in force in the state. The Rajaji National Park, which was set up under the Project Elephant, is considered a haven for the Asiatic elephants in the country, whereas the Corbett National Park, with the highest density of tigers in the country, is regarded as a great success of the Project Tiger Conservation in the state.
However, the Elephant Project and the Tiger Project are the central government-sponsored schemes and are funded purely by the union ministry of forests and environment, whereas the Project Leopard, which is in the pipeline, is purely an initiative of the state government.
It may be mentioned here that leopards have always been soft targets in Uttarakhand and nearly one-third death of leopards reported every year in the country are from the state. As per forest sources, there are about 2,000 leopards in the national parks, sanctuaries, and the community forests of the state. As per sources of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), Uttarakhand reported 85 & 105 leopard deaths in 2009 & 2010 respectively, whereas 114 leopard deaths were reported in and 2011. Besides natural deaths, the main reasons of high casualties of leopards in the state are poaching, accidents, and revenge killings by the village folk. The poachers target the leopards for their derivatives, including skins and bones which sell at high prices in the national and international markets. As per records, 10 leopards were poached in 2009, while 16 and 14 leopards were killed by the poachers in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Twenty-six skins, 2 skeletons and two bone cases were recovered in raids from the smugglers in 2009, while 28 skins and one bone case were seized from the poachers and the smugglers in 2010 and 50 skins and bones were recovered in 2011. Ten skins of leopards have so far been seized this year. It clearly shows that the network of poachers and smugglers is active in the state and the leopards are falling victims to their greed. Leopards also die in accidents. The Haridwar-Najibabad national highway (Highway No. 74) is the most prone to such accidental deaths.
The leopards are also falling victims to the wrath of the village folk. The prowling leopards kill the cattle of the village folk and sometimes target even the humans, especially women and children in the villages on the periphery of the forests. In retaliation, the village folk also kill the leopards, sometimes by firearms and sometimes by resorting to electrocution. Leopards have also been killed by the forest department and the police when these wild animals create terror in the villages. Sometimes the leopards are also killed by the tigers. Whatever may be the reason, the rising incidence of leopards deaths has sent the alarm bells ringing in the state.
The chief wildlife warden of the state, S.S. Sharma told Haridwar Plus that the forest authorities were working on the Project Leopard to safeguard this endangered species of wildlife. The focus of the forest department is to devise ways and means to take better care of the species. “The project, though purely a state government initiative, will be framed on the pattern of the central government-sponsored Project Tiger and Project Elephant”, said S.S. Sharma. According to the forest authorities, the project will cover not only the conservation of leopards but also rescue work. The forest department has invited suggestions and proposals from the NGOs and wildlife activists to make the project as comprehensive and effective as possible.
Haridwar based head of the state WPSI, Rajendra Agarwal says that their NGO has suggested developing a strong intelligence network, especially on the local level, so that poaching and animal parts trading activities could be curbed. The NGO is of the view that the informers should be duly rewarded with money so that these informers continue to help the department in keeping a tab over the locals involved in poaching and trading of animal parts activities. “We have also suggested spreading awareness through motivating villagers not to go out in the forest alone, to keep their dogs, cattle, etc. behind doors, especially after sunset and not to leave their children alone. If the safety precautions are taken, the incidents of leopards targeting the cattle and the villagers will come down and the villagers also will stop indulging in revenge killing of the leopards”, says Aggarwal.