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Beware, spots fading into extinction in Uttarakhand

 
16 July 2010
Paritosh Kimothi | Dehradun

With more than 70 leopard deaths reported in Uttarakhand since January this year, alarmed environmentalists have expressed concern that the spotted feline could become extinct in Uttarakhand in five years if leopard deaths continue at the current rate. Apart from wildlife poaching, man-animal conflict is also considered a major factor leading to this.

According to Uttarakhand head of the Wildlife Protection Society of India Rajendra Agrawal, there has been an alarming increase in the number of leopards killed by the villagers by poisoning the carcasses of the cattle killed by the felines. Apart from such revenge killings, the leopard population has also been affected because villagers in the mountainous regions have poached alarming numbers of deer and other animals which form the natural prey base of the leopard. Without its natural prey, the leopard ends up killing domestic animals, which again provokes revenge killings by villagers.

Agrawal states that during the previous year about 125 leopard deaths were reported from Uttarakhand, while in the first seven months of this year, more than 70 leopard deaths have been reported from across the State, caused by factors, including natural causes, accidents and poaching. About 14 of these leopards were shot dead after being declared man-eaters. Besides, more than 25 leopard pelts and more than 50 kg of leopard bones were also recovered. Agrawal adds that delay in payment of compensation to persons whose domestic animals were killed by leopards was behind the increase in revenge killings.

Citing an example, he says that human-leopard conflict was a major problem in the Kirtinagar area in Tehri district about two years ago. However, there is no such problem now, because the leopard population has been eliminated. In case of leopards declared man-eaters, shooters deputed by the department end up shooting the first leopard they spot.

The tiger is ensured better protection since irs declining population has elicited world focus. But, with the leopard not being seen as important as the tiger, odds are piled up against it, he added.

However, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Srikant Chandola says the department doesn't take unnatural leopard deaths lightly. It undertakes large-scale tree plantation activity during the monsoon, due to which the increased presence of department personnel in the forests deters poachers. Earlier, it could take years before one got compensation for damages caused by wildlife, but now the victims are compensated within three months.

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