Rajasthan has become the first state in India to launch a project to conserve leopards by improving their prey base, mitigating conflicts with humans and controlling poaching.
Nine subspecies of the leopard have been recognized, and they are distributed across Africa and Asia. Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus)is an endangered animal under schedule one of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It is also listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because populations have declined following habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching for the illegal trade of skins and body parts, and persecution due to conflict situations.
Indian Leopard is one of the five big cats found in India, apart from Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, Snow Leopard (found in Himalayas) and Clouded Leopard (found in Himalayan foothills, China).
The big cat’s population in Rajasthan has declined over the years. According to 2015 wildlife census, there are 434 leopards in the state. Around 20 leopards have been killed between 2014 and 2016 in accidents or by humans when they strayed into human habitations or agricultural fields.
Chief minister Vasundhara Raje had announced Project Leopard in her budget speech for 2017-18 recently and set aside ₹7 crore for it. According to the proposal, Project Leopard will run in eight sanctuaries – Jaisamand Sanctuary in Udaipur, Shergarh Sanctuary in Baran,Bassi Sanctuary in Chittorgarh, Kumbhalgarh Sanctuary-Raoli Todgarh Sanctuary , Mount Abu Sanctuary-Sundamata Conservation Reserve (Sirohi and Jalore), Jhalana Aamagarh Conservation Reserve in Jaipur, Jawai Conservation Reserve in Pali and Khetri Bansyal Conservation Reserve in Jhunjhunu.
These sanctuaries are spread across 1926.80 square kilometres.
- The biggest threats facing the common leopard in India are increasing conflict with humans. Pressure is exerted on protected areas by grazing livestock, extraction of fodder, timber and non-timber forest products and illegal occupation. These lead to human-animal conflict inside forests.
- Leopards also die due to accidents on roads passing through and around protected areas.
- Poaching for illegal trade in body parts and loss of habitat.
Steering Committee on Project Leopard:
The steering committee of Project Leopard will be chaired by forest minister; principal chief conservator of the forest will be the vice-chairman, chief wildlife warden, and member secretary. Directors of eight leopard sanctuaries, chief conservator of forest of those areas and wildlife experts will be members of the committee. This committee will report to the state board of wildlife.