January 14, 2006

Fourteen leopard skins seized in north India

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - Police in north India have
arrested five people and seized 14 leopard skins and one skin
of a civet cat from them in what could turn out to be a big
poaching racket, a senior police official said on Saturday.

The seizures and arrests were made earlier this week in
Fatehpur district, about 200 kms (125 miles) from Lucknow,
capital of Uttar Pradesh state.

"The kingpins are still at large and we are trying to get
them," senior police officer Vir Bahadur Singh told Reuters.

"I am quite confident that very soon we will be able to
bust a major gang behind this illicit trade."

Poaching of tigers and other big cats is on the rise in
India and several national parks in the country reported a fall
in the number of tigers last year.

One sanctuary near New Delhi said it had no tigers left,
forcing the prime minister to visit the forests and announce a
probe and a special task force.

A century ago, India had about 40,000 tigers but now
officials estimate there are at most 3,700.

Leopards have faced a similar plight and according to Tito
Joseph of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, on an
average 200 leopards are killed in India every year. "Leopard
skins are used for making dresses," he told Reuters.