Bhubaneswar, Nov. 21: At a time when a Cheetah is a nightmare to be seen in the Indian sub-continent and reared in a delicate habitat to foster its breed in the Indian forests, importing a few from Namibia in South Africa, the Indian leopard is at the threshold of extinction. Among other states, Odisha is going to bid adieu to the common leopard as poaching across the state is on a stiff rise for years.
According to the forest department sources, the tiger census undertaken in 2018 reveals that Odisha forests were home to at least 760 leopards. Koraput, Rayagada, Kalahandi, Boudh-Kandhamal, Sonepur, Nayagarh, Balangir, Sambalpur, Nuapada and Malkangiri forests were paradise for the leopards. Apart from it, many of the wildlife sanctuaries including Sunabeda Wildlife Division, Satakosia, Similipal Wildlife Sanctuary, and Karlapat Sanctuary treasure the big cats in large numbers, for their conducive forest resources and biodiversities. However, the population of the leopards is depleting very fast as leopard poaching has been rampant almost across the state, for illegal trade of animal hides.
According to the Special Task Force (STF) of the Wildlife Enforcement Wing, at least 81 leopard hides have been seized from interstate peddlers and dozens of wildlife offenders have been put behind bars. Fiscal 2023 proved a more fatal period for the leopard as the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) recorded as many as 29 leopard poaching cases and recovered a huge cache of leopard hides from international wildlife smugglers. Similarly, at least 31 wildlife cases were registered in the year 2021-21 in connection with leopard poaching and hide trafficking. In 2020-21, as many as 21 leopard hides were seized from the traffickers during deals with the poachers.
Acting upon the growing number of wildlife crimes, mostly illegal leopard-hide trades forest officials in collaboration with the police, STF, and Crime Branch sleuths jointly work on it to safeguard the endangered species. Recently, the STF of Odisha Crime Branch recovered 2 leopard hides from the Nayagarh district from a notorious poacher while he was bargaining for Rs 10 lakh for the hides. However, the interstate trafficker succeeded in escaping from the spot.
Leopard poaching and illegal hide peddling are alarmingly rampant in Odisha’s Boudh district resulting in vulnerable threats for the endangered species. As many as 20 leopards were recorded to be poached from the Boudh territorial forest division for trading their hides in the recent past, said the records of the district forest officials. At the same time, the Wildlife wings of the Special Task Force (STF) have nabbed more than 40 accused including the poachers and illegal peddlers in this connection. Acting upon a tip-off, the STF team conducted a raid on Thursday with the help of Boudh Territorial Forest Range officials under Boudh Forest Division near Baunsuni Bridge Chhak and recovered a leopard hide from the possession of two accused namely Abanikanta Kanhar and Sakinath Kanhar. At the same time, the STF team seized other incriminating materials from them. According to an STF official, during the last year, it has unearthed as many as 20 Leopard skins, 10 Elephant Tusks, 2 deer skins, 6 live pangolins and 15 kg pangolin scales and arrested 40 wildlife criminals. If the wildlife crime is not checked with a strong will the leopard species in Boudh forests will go extinct, he said. The STF is one of the specialized wings of the Odisha Crime Branch to curb forest resources-related crimes in the State. Especially, wildlife crimes remain one of the focus areas of the STF. STF will continue its drive against the wildlife poachers and hide trading rackets in order to safeguard the endangered species, said STF DSP, SS Rath.