Wildlife & Biodiversity

Fourth 'unnatural' leopard death in Odisha this year

Environmentalists in the state have raised concerns about the safety of the animals given that poaching is rampant

By Ashis Senapati
Published: Thursday 04 April 2019
Representative Image. Photo: Getty Images
Representative Image. Photo: Getty Images Representative Image. Photo: Getty Images

The carcass of a six-feet-long leopard was found in the Tikatali section of the Jenabil Range in Odisha‘s Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) on April 3, 2019. STR is located in Mayurbhanj district.

This is the fourth incident of unnatural death of a leopard in Odisha within four months.

This incident comes nearly two months after the carcass of another leopard was found on February 9, 2019, in the Chandipada forest range of Odisha‘s Angul district. On February 5, a female leopard died after getting caught in a trap set by poachers in the Badmal forest range of Odisha’s Bolangir district. On January 16, the carcass of another six-feet-long male leopard was found floating in the Rengali reservoir under Khamara forest range of Angul district.

In the present case, the carcass of the leopard was discovered by some villagers in the forest on the morning of April 3. “We will know the exact reason of the death of the leopard after getting the autopsy report,” said JB Pati, STR’s deputy director.

Prima facie, it looked like a case of unnatural death. However, the exact cause of the death will be known after a post-mortem is conducted, added Pati.

This incident again raises questions about the security of leopards. A lack of proper patrolling by the forest guards is the main reason for the death of the leopard, said Wildlife Society of Odisha’s secretary, Biswajit Mohanty.

A thriving trade

Odisha’s leopards are in grave danger.

Over the past 10 years, around 150 leopards were poached across Odisha. Leopards have been targeted by poachers for their expensive hides and other body parts. The rise in poaching cases is also indicative of more demand from the international illegal trade market, said Mohanty.

On March 27, 2019, police seized a leopard skin at Pokharibandha in Kalahandi district. During patrolling, a team of Biswanathpur police intercepted two miscreants travelling on a motorcycle near the Ambadala-Dhainrabhata road. Seeing the cops, the miscreants fled after leaving the two-wheeler on the spot. Upon checking the vehicle, the police recovered a sack containing the leopard skin from the vehicle.     

On March 15, 2019, Odisha‘s Special Task Force busted a major racket of smuggling leopard hides at Kuchinda in Sambalpur district. Seven persons were arrested.  Four hides of leopards were seized from them at a hotel in Kuchinda. The hides are worth Rs 40 lakh in the international market. It is suspected that the animals were killed in a nearby forest.

On November 26, 2018, officials of the Athagarh wildlife division in Cuttack district had arrested a poacher and seized a leopard skin from him. In 2017 and 2016, there were four cases of seizure of leopard hides, skulls and claws in Odisha. 

Leopards often venture into villages and towns near forests, desperately looking for prey since the spotted deer, wild boar  and other animals that once inhabited these forests have now dwindled due shrinkage of forest areas for grazing. That is when leopards are killed by poachers, said Sanjiv Kumar Das, an animal rights activist and the secretary of People for Animals’ Odisha unit.

“The lack of space for the leopard is because of expanding human activities for agriculture and various forms of forest-based sustenance. These conditions have reduced the gap in man-leopard interface,” said Lala Aswini Kumar Singh, a former wildlife researcher of the Odisha forest department.

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