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The Special Task Force of the Odisha CID on Tuesday arrested a man while he was trying to sell a leopard hide to another person in Bhubaneswar adding one more case to the rising number of trade in wildlife derivatives in the state.

STF Deputy Inspector General of Police, Jainarayan Pankaj, said the cops had arrested a driver named Prasant Nayak while he was trying to sell the leopard skin to a person at Baramunda in the city. The STF seized the leopard hide from the side box of his motorcycle. Nayak hailed from Karanjia area, not very far from the Similipal Tiger Reserve in Mayurbhanj district that has a sizeable population of leopards.

Leopards enjoy the same level of protection as tigers under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, but they are regularly poached for their skins and other body parts. Leopard skins are used for home decoration or to make luxury carpets.

Data compiled by the forest department and STF officials showed that 2020 has turned out to be the worst-possible year for leopards with at least 15 seizures of hides from poachers across the state. In June this year, STF officials had seized 4 leopard skins in two separate cases and arrested several people including a college lecturer who was out to make quick money.

Similarly, in Nuapada district, a mother and her minor son were arrested in September this year while trying to sell a leopard hide, its head as well as boar meat. The same month, 3 leopard skins were sized by forest officials in Nabarangpur district.

Wildlife activists alleged that though the forest department has been seizing 8 to 9 leopard hides every year, this year the numbers have gone up due to seizures made by STF. “Poachers have become fearless due to weak investigation by law enforcement agencies. The number of poaching cases may be higher as many have gone unreported,” alleged Biswajit Mohanty, secretary of the Wildlife Society of Orissa. According to WSO, more than 160 leopards have been poached in the last 10 years.

Raising concerns over the leopard skin trade in the state, the National Tiger Conservation Authority last year had sent a notice to the Chief Wildlife Warden of Odisha seeking action taken for the protection of leopards.