In 1997, in the culmination of the campaign to protect leopards, a moratorium was issued on all encroachments on the leopard habitat in India and Sri Lanka and imposed on the general wildlife trade. Except for certain commodities, such as rhino horn, ivory, antelope tusks and tiger teeth, no one was allowed to import or export any wildlife.
But the rules were not strictly enforced, and often if they were, rangers were well in the way.
Inter-agency collaboration has strengthened in recent years and a draft policy has been submitted to the Indian government for modification.
This left the leopard trail a little muddy—and not just because the original Nepalese Army was no longer an international force. NGOs in Sri Lanka and India and other countries pushing for the protection of endangered species were gearing up to make sure that proper monitoring was carried out and full implementation of the moratorium took place.
“People think that leopards don’t exist any more in Sri Lanka. What we have found is that even though people have been living around leopards for years, the number of those sightings has increased exponentially,” said Mahesh Dahanu, founder of an animal rescue and rehabilitation organization called LUCK.
LUCK was established in 2008 to rescue and rehabilitate both endangered animals and their environment. “There are about 13,000 leopards left in Sri Lanka. The problem is that there is a growing population and people are encroaching on the leopard territory,” he said.
Dahanu and other environmental activists say that the number of people killed by leopards has increased as the leopards have gone further into human settlements in search of food. In 2015, there were 39 cases of killing and 22 cases of maiming.
The leopards travel to Maneri, Indira Nagar and Kinumaran Lake to forage for food and water. Although they have learned to live with these settlements, they are vulnerable to attacks by poachers who kill or wound them. Most of the leopards in the country live along highways, flyovers and elevated walkways, making them easy targets for anti-vehicle missiles and the bullet from firearms.
Environmentalists are grateful to the Government of India and Nepalese authorities for their support. “In my humble opinion, the two governments have played a very important role in the conservation efforts of the leopards,” said Dahanu.
Leopards are protected under the ILP (Illegal Wildlife Trade) Act of 1986. Under this Act, all wildlife goods acquired outside India are liable to be seized. Also, under the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Act of 1977, all products and products derived from species listed as endangered/threatened may not be traded internationally. All member states are obliged to monitor illegal wildlife trade in the trade in wildlife goods and ensure that trade in flora and fauna is controlled.
The ILP Act and the CITES Act carry an imprisonment term of up to two years and a fine of up to Rs 5,000 or both, whichever is higher. In fact, it is because of this Act that the Nepal government in April instituted a three-year jail term for trafficking wildlife, which takes effect next month.
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