Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

Questions are being raised over the huge decline in the number of leopards in Odisha after the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) report revealed that as many as 192 leopards have vanished from the State in the last four years. 

As per the Status of Leopards in India-2022 report prepared by the NTCA, as many as 760 leopards used to reside in the forests of Odisha in 2018. However, the number has come down to 568 in 2022. The number of leopards has declined by 25 per cent in Odisha forests in the last four years.

The report has raised concerns of the Forest Department and wildlife activists while a number of seizures of leopard hides have been made in various parts of the State recently.  

However, Odisha Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF), Susanta Nanda refused to accept the authenticity of the report regarding the huge decline in the number of leopards in the State. As per Nanda, the report stated a huge decline in the number of leopards in Odisha as less number of camera traps have been used in the tiger census carried out by the NTCA in 2022 in comparison to 2018.

“NTCA had installed cameras in as many as 14 places of the State during the 2018 leopard census. However, in 2022, cameras have been installed only in three places - Simlipal, Satkosia, and Sunabeda. Even no cameras were installed in the buffer area of Simlipal where maximum numbers of leopards are found. It is the main reason why a huge decline in the numbers of leopards in the State has been shown in the NTCA report,” said Nanda.

Nanda informed that Odisha will conduct its own leopard census and a simultaneous census of elephants and leopards will be conducted in May this year.

“A simultaneous census of elephants and leopards will be conducted in Odisha in May 2024 to know the exact number of leopards in the State. The census will be conducted by installing trap cameras in every forest of the State,” Nanda added.

However, former Odisha PCCF, Anup Nayak refuted the claim made by Nanda. As per Nayak, there is nothing wrong with the census process carried out by the NTCA.

“The NTCA has been following the same process since 2006. The process has been accepted in different international forums and there have been no errors in the method,” said Nayak.

“Leopards also need corridors like the tigers.  However, there are no proper corridors for the free movement of leopards in the State. As a result, their numbers are declining due to conflict with humans. We have to take proper steps to maintain leopard corridors in the State. We have to strengthen our information network and stop poaching,” said Nayak.

Meanwhile, as per the report by the Special Task Force (STF) of the Crime Branch, as many as 21 leopard skins have been seized in Odisha from the beginning of 2023 till date. Against the backdrop of these statistics, the result of the upcoming leopard census to be conducted by the Odisha government will be eagerly awaited.