Bengaluru: Central India has turned into a “hub” for leopard poaching, with Karnataka being the chosen shipping route for illegal trade in leopard parts, finds a DNA-based study of seized wildlife products.
A new research paper by scientists from National Centre for Biological Sciences, Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) and other institutes, published in the international journal Conservation Biology, suggests that leopard poaching could be far more rampant than earlier believed — and certainly more than tiger poaching — threatening to change their population dynamics, their behaviour and sex ratios.
“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. As many as 3,968 leopard body parts were seized by Indian enforcement agencies during 1994–2013, which is nearly four times higher than seizures of tiger parts. This however, could represent 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.
Co-author Sanjay Gubbi of NCF said that an increase in vigilance in central India, where poaching has been notorious, has turned the trade route via less likely places such as Karnataka to both hoard and transport wildlife parts. Scientists found that most of the seized parts belonged to male leopards. Even if this trend does not point to “male-biased poaching,” it may indicate “a male-preferred illegal trade” for their comparatively larger pelts.
Male leopards also tend to come in greater conflict with humans and are more likely to be killed, the paper adds.
For the study, researchers genetically analysed scat and blood samples collected from 173 wild leopards across India and also of 40 seized leopard skin to infer their geographic origins. Some of the seized leopard pelts had come from as far as 1,506 km away.