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Four Leopards a week enter India’s illegal wildlife trade



Posted on 28 September 2012  | 
New Delhi: At least four Leopards have been poached and their body parts entered into illegal wildlife trade every week for at least 10 years in India, according to TRAFFIC’s latest study “Illuminating the Blind Spot: A study on illegal trade in Leopard parts in India” launched today by Dr Divyabhanusinh Chavda, President, WWF-India.

The study documents a total of 420 seizures of Leopard skins, bones and other body parts reported from 209 localities in 21 out of 35 territories in India during 2001–2010.

Statistical analysis is used to estimate the additional levels of “undetected trade” and concludes that around 2294 Leopards were trafficked in India during the period—an average of four animals per week over the 10 year period.

Leopards (Panthera pardus) are fully protected under India’s domestic legislation, and commercial international trade is banned under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora).

“TRAFFIC’s objective analysis has cast new light onto the sheer scale of the illicit trade in Leopard parts in India, which has hitherto been overshadowed by the trade in another of the country’s national icons, the Tiger,” said Dr Chavda at the launch of the report.

“Without an effective strategy to assess and tackle the threats posed by illegal trade, the danger is that Leopard numbers may decline rapidly as happened previously to the Tiger” he further added.

Uttarakhand emerged as a major source of Leopard parts in trade, while Delhi was found to be a major epicenter of the illegal trade, along with adjacent areas of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.

Dr Rashid Raza, Coordinator with TRAFFIC in India and the lead author of the study said: “Even though reports of illegal trade in Leopard body parts are disturbingly frequent, the level of threat to Leopards in the country has previously been unrecognized, and has fallen into our collective ‘blind spot’.”

Close to 90% of reported Leopard part seizures in India comprised solely of skins, making them the dominant body part found in illegal trade during the 10 year period. Other body parts, particularly bones, are known to be prescribed as substitutes for Tiger parts in traditional Asian medicine.

It is believed most Leopard parts are smuggled out of India to other countries in Asia, often via the porous border with neighbouring Nepal. Earlier investigations indicated many of the Leopard parts found for sale in northern Myanmar, northern Laos and the ethnic Tibetan regions of China originated from India.

The report recommends the establishment of a Task Force to tackle illegal trade in the areas identified as having the highest levels of Leopard-related crime, as well as better regional co-operation between source, transit and market countries through initiatives such as the South Asia Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN).

An official database along the lines of “Tigernet” (http://www.tigernet.nic.in/), used for Tiger conservation in India, would also help monitor the illegal Leopard part trade. Studies are also needed to assess the levels of threat from human-Leopard conflict in the country, according to the report.

Ravi Singh, Secretary General & CEO, WWF-India said: “The Leopard is among the most charismatic large animals in the world, and plays an important ecological role in the forests it inhabits”.

“Any increase in external market demand could easily lead to a decimation of Leopard numbers in India, but I am hopeful this latest analysis will provide the impetus to catalyse effective conservation action; particularly increased effectiveness of law enforcement initiatives to curtail the illegal trade in Leopard body parts”.

TRAFFIC’s work on the Leopard trade in India is supported by WWF-India and WWF-UK.


More information: Dr Rashid Raza Tel. +91-9582003785 and Mr MKS Pasha at +91-9868288355

For report copies or photographs: Ms Dilpreet B Chhabra Tel. +91-11- 41504786/ 43516290/ +91-9899000472.

Notes
1. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, is a strategic alliance of WWF, the global conservation organization and IUCN, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. TRAFFIC works on wildlife trade issues worldwide. In India, TRAFFIC functions as a division of WWF-India. TRAFFIC India works to ensure that trade in wild plants and animals is not a threat to the conservation of nature in India. For more information please visit www.trafficindia.org or www.traffic.org

2. The chief source of data of Leopard seizure incidents for the period 2001-2010 was newspapers reports and forest department seizure records. Other records of mortality either reported as natural or due to conflict with people were not included.

3. Recognizing the threat to the Asia's big cats in the wild, TRAFFIC India has launched a public service advertisement campaign reminding people that these felines are "Wanted Alive” in their natural habitat! Campaign posters feature the four Asian big cats—Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard and Clouded Leopard—all of them threatened by illegal trade in their body parts. The campaign is ongoing at the airports, highways, tiger reserves, schools, metro stations etc. To know more, please visit http://www.wwfindia.org/about_wwf/enablers/traffic/?7340/Help-save-our-big-cats 
 
4. In response to record poaching levels of flagship species, WWF and TRAFFIC have also launched a joint global campaign calling on governments to combat illegal wildlife trade and reduce demand for illicit endangered species products. To know more, please visit http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/species/problems/illegal_trade/wildlife_trade_campaign/ and http://www.facebook.com/WWF
Leopard skins
© TRAFFIC India Enlarge
Leopard
© MKS Pasha/TRAFFIC India Enlarge
Leghold trap used to trap big cats including Leopard and Tiger
© TRAFFIC India Enlarge

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