As many as 116 leopard skins were recovered from smugglers/poachers in the State between 2018 and 2024, say authorities.

Odisha has witnessed a sharp decline in its leopard population — approximately one-fourth lost — primarily due to poaching between 2018 and 2022.

The ‘Status of Leopards India’ released on Thursday presented a dismal picture of the big cat population in the State.

“The leopard population in Odisha is estimated at 568, the population has significantly declined since the last countrywide estimate of 760. However, the leopard densities from both the tiger Reserves have increased significantly. This indicates the major efforts of recovery is restricted to tiger reserves,” says the leopard census.  The drop of 192 leopards is estimated to be 25.26%.

Also read: Odisha finds fight to save leopards an uphill task

The report says leopard occupancy has been reported exclusively within Protected Areas (PAs) such as Similipal and Satkosia tiger reserves, Hirakud and Kotagarh wildlife sanctuaries and their adjoining forest divisions.

“The leopard occupancy has declined from the previous occupied regions. Leopard presence was not recorded from Nayagarh and Ghumsur forest divisions in this cycle of countrywide monitoring,” it observes.

According to the report, common threats are poaching of prey for bush meat, targeted poaching for tiger and leopard skins and body parts and habitat loss due to mining and other human activities. Additionally, road accidents are a significant cause of leopard fatalities.

The high number of leopard skins seized by both Odisha police and the State Forest and Environment department indicates how poaching remained the prime cause behind disappearance of leopards in the State.

As per the information furnished by the Forest department in the State Assembly, as many as 59 leopard skins were seized from wildlife smugglers between 2018 and 2023. Similarly, the Special Task Force (STF) of the State Police recovered 57 leopard skins from poachers and wildlife article dealers between 2019 and 2024. Put together, 116 leopards were killed and skins were peeled off. Wildlife experts said that in dozens of cases, leopard skins might have reached their destinations unnoticed and unintercepted.

“The State should also put efforts of effective patrolling, prey recovery and habitat management outside tiger reserve since major population of leopard (55%) are outside the protected area network,” says the census report.

J. N. Pankaj, inspector general of police (STF), said, “After seizure of leopard skins, we deliberately do not disclose the value of the leopard skins. As value is exaggerated in media, wildlife criminals or locals get encouraged and look for poaching of leopards.”

Odisha has a forest cover of 52,156 sq. km constituting 33.50% of the State’s total area. Effective patrolling and law enforcement are particularly critical.

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