Alarming statistics reveal that 53 leopards have been poached in India since January 2018, taking the toll to 127 this year so far.

Recent data by Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) reveals that nearly 40 percent of the leopard deaths reported this year have been poaching cases.

In 2017 alone, 159 poaching cases were reported. Figures reveal that about five leopards are poached for one tiger. Since 2010, over 1,100 leopards have been poached, according to data by the WPSI.

Tito Joseph, programme manager at WPSI, said that the number of poaching cases is a cause for worry. “Cases have been reported from different parts of the country and it is alarming.” Leopards are hunted for their skin and body parts. Most of the demand comes from abroad. “The demand mostly comes from China and other Southeast Asian countries,” Joseph added. Leopard skins are seen as a luxury item while their bones are used in traditional medicine.

The population of leopards in the country is estimated to be around 14,000. They are placed in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The big cat is placed as vulnerable in the (International Union for Conservation of Nature) IUCN Red List due to decline in numbers caused by poaching, habitat loss and human-animal conflict. Major cases of poaching have been reported most from Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

Apart from this, human-animal conflict and loss of habitat are also reasons for the alarming number of leopard deaths. In totality, 431 leopards have died in 2017.

However, a senior official from Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) discarded the WPSI report and said that they do not have the figures to corroborate the organisation’s data. “We have told all state bureaus to provide us with the latest figures so that we can cross-check the data.” He added that as per the resources of the WCCB, poaching cases were on the decline due to increased enforcement against wildlife crimes in India.

However, a lot more still needs to be done. Conviction in poaching cases is still pretty low. Tito Joseph says that a lack in proper presentation of the cases in court and long duration of the court cases often affects the conviction rates negatively. But he added that there is no dearth of legal points to prosecute those involved. “Sufficient legal measures are available but it all depends on how you enforce it,” Joseph said.