New Delhi: At least four leopards have been poached and their body parts illegall traded every week for at least 10 years in India, according to a study released Friday.
According to the "Illuminating the Blind Spot: A study on illegal trade in leopard parts in India" by wildlife organisation TRAFFIC, along with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), a total of 420 seizures of leopard skins, bones and other body parts were reported from 209 places in India during 2001-2010.
Statistical analysis concludes that around 2,294 leopards were poached and their parts traded over the 10-year period in India, an average of four leopards a week.
Leopards are protected under India`s domestic legislation, and commercial international trade is banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
"TRAFFIC`s objective analysis has cast new light on the sheer scale of the illicit trade in leopard parts in India, which has hitherto been overshadowed by the trade in another of the country`s national icons, the tiger," said Divyabhanusinh Chavda, president, WWF-India.
"Without an effective strategy to assess and tackle the threats posed by illegal trade, the danger is that leopard numbers may decline rapidly as happened previously to the tiger," he said.
Uttarakhand emerged as a major source of leopard parts in trade, while Delhi was found to be a major epicentre of the illegal trade, along with adjacent areas of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.
Dr. Rashid Raza, coordinator of TRAFFIC in India and the lead author of the study, said: "Even though reports of illegal trade in leopard body parts are disturbingly frequent, the level of threat to leopards in the country has previously been unrecognized, and has fallen into our collective `blind spot`."
Close to 90 percent of reported leopard part seizures in India comprise solely of skins, making them the dominant body part found in illegal trade during the 10-year period. Other body parts, particularly bones, are known to be prescribed as substitutes for tiger parts in traditional Asian medicine.
It is believed most leopard parts are smuggled out of India to other countries in Asia, often via the porous border with Nepal.