The leopard population of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir is shrinking rapidly and despite stringent conservation efforts, leopard poaching is still a lucrative business.
It is difficult to estimate the number of leopards remaining in the country but their number is relatively small and, in recent years, killing leopards and selling off their skins and body parts is increasingly attractive to unscrupulous people in search of ‘easy’ money.
Earlier this year for example, fresh leopard skins turned up in both Lahore and Rawalpindi where incredibly stupid people are prepared to pay as much as two hundred thousand rupees for such a ‘treasure’. Leopard body parts find a ready market too as they are used by some hakims here and also smuggled out of the country for use overseas.
Leopards — Panthera pardi — are still found in very small numbers in the Murree Hills, especially in Ayubia National Park (where a documentary film is currently being made about them), Margalla National Park outside Islamabad, Kohistan, Waziristan, Balochistan and Azad Kashmir and aside from Panthera pardi there used to be four sub-species too, but whether or not these all still exist is anyone’s guess.
Mountain leopards are larger than those inhabiting desert terrain and other lowland areas and the mountain dwelling leopard, Panthera pardi, is the species most people picture when the word leopard comes to mind. These, if they are males, may stand 66cm at the shoulder, measure up to 117cm in body length with an additional 71cm to 96cm added on by the tail.
Male leopards can weigh as much as 69kg with females weighing less at approximately 50kg to 55kg and both are a golden tawny colour with trademark black spots.
Leopards are usually solitary animals and much prefer to hunt by night although, in recent years, their habits have become more unpredictable due to increased human intrusion in their territory and, unfortunately, leopards have killed people, along with livestock, during daylight hours in the Nathia Gali area and leopard attacks have reportedly increased in Azad Kashmir too.
A leopard’s preferred prey is small animals, monkeys, birds and even snakes and lizards, but as humans intrude more and more into traditional leopard areas, badly affecting ecosystems and natural balance in the process, then hungry leopards have begun killing goats and the like and this, plus the obvious danger factor to humans, does not make them at all
popular with villagers struggling to make a living in leopard territory.
Mountain leopards breed once a year either in late spring or summer and the female usually has only two cubs which, these days and if at all possible, are promptly killed by local people who have no understanding of the importance of wildlife. Unless the situation changes for the better and unless leopards and people can learn to coexist as they once did, the
future of our indigenous leopard population is at very high risk indeed.