'Delhi hub for trade in leopard body parts'



New Delhi: The national capital has the ignominy of becoming a hub of illegal trade in leopard body parts, a report commissioned by the World Wide Fund (WWF) said on Friday.

According to the report, at least four leopards have been poached and their body parts sold illegally every week in the last decade in the country and Delhi is where this bargain is transacted most.

The report has been prepared by TRAFFIC (a wildlife trade monitoring network) to ascertain the number of leopards and the threat of extinction faced by them in various parts of the country.

"At least four leopards have been poached and their body parts entered into illegal wildlife trade every year for at least 10 years in India," Dr Rashid Raza, Coordinator, TRAFFIC and lead author of the report, said.

It also gives a list of places from where illegal trade of leopard body parts is taking place and their seizures have been made.

"Delhi is clearly the most important hub of leopard trade with 26.4 per cent of all leopard accounted for in seizures. It is followed by Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Together with neighbouring states of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, this northern region forms the epicentre of trade in leopard parts," the report said.

Ironically, no significant leopard population is found inside and in the immediate surrounding of the national capital.

"Unfortunately, there is no available data on the number of leopards in the country. Unlike task forces concerning tigers and elephants, Environment and Forest Ministry has no such body to take care of dwindling leopard population," Raza said.

WWF will present a copy of the report to the Forest and Environment Ministry. "We have been in regular touch with the Ministry during preparation of this report and copy will soon be provided to them."

India was once known as the biggest habitat of all species of wild cats, WWF-India President Dr Divyabhanusingh Chavda said while emphasising on preserving these species to maintain the balance in ecology and food chain.

"We have to ensure that tiger (conservation) should not dilute focus on leopards. India was blessed with largest number of all types of big cats. But Cheetah's are extinct now and the threat is being faced by all the other species," Chavda said.

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 last 10 year's period, the report said.

"It is believed most leopard parts are smuggled out of India to other countries in Asia, often via porous borders with neighbouring Nepal. Earlier, investigation indicated many of the leopard parts found for sale in northern Myanmar, northern Laos and ethnic Tibetan region of China originated from India," it added.

On steps being taken to stop leopard poaching and illegal trade of its body parts, the report suggested strengthening of the law and order mechanism and improved coordination among the agencies involved.

"Most of the times, the forest department is either under-equipped or ill-trained to handle poaching. Then there is a serious lack of coordination between agencies like state police, forest departments and CBI," Raza said.

PTI