Living with leopards in Mumbai

Last Updated : 29 February 2020, 19:29 IST
Last Updated : 29 February 2020, 19:29 IST
Last Updated : 29 February 2020, 19:29 IST
Last Updated : 29 February 2020, 19:29 IST

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The Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Mumbai has the distinction of being a national park located within metropolitan limits.

Spread across 103 sq km and sandwiched between eastern and western suburbs, it forms about one-sixth of Mumbai geographically.

It’s home to 47 leopards (and eight cubs), making it a high leopard-density area.

SGNP touches the Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Palghar district and Yeoor Range in Thane district.

During 2002-03, the areas around the SGNP witnessed intense human-animal conflict and several people lost their lives or were injured, which rattled the Maharashtra government.

Leopard attacks on humans peaked in 2002 when 25 incidents were reported over a span of six months.

“Leopard is the top predator in the SGNP landscape and there have been human-leopard interactions. We have managed to contain it through awareness programmes,” says a Maharashtra Forest Department (MFD) official.

The then chief conservator of forests Sunil Limaye and his successors Vikas Gupta and Anwar Ahmed set into motion a series of programmes involving general public.

Sunil Limaye’s focus was clear: ‘You cannot teach the leopard but you can surely teach human beings’.

A key initiative was Mumbaikars for SGNP and its campaign Living with Leopards, which were monitored by leading ecologist Vidya Athreya.

The initiative which involves many stakeholders, with locals being the focal point, continues to engage in awareness activities.

“As part of the project, we contacted all neighbouring police stations of SGNP and conducted programmes for them. In fact, the police station gets the first call in cases of emergency or leopard-spotting,” an MFD official points out.

The teams together visit the slums around the forest and the housing societies.

Beyond leopards, the SGNP and its neighbourhood, which includes the Aarey Milk Colony and Film City, are home to more than 275 species of birds, 35 species of mammals, 80 species of reptiles and amphibians, 170 species of butterflies, several species of fish and 1,300 plant species!

Leopards do hunt chital and sambar, but dogs become easy prey. Lakhs of people stay around SGNP, with a population of around 21,000 persons per sq km (2011 census).

People have been told to manage waste as it attracts dogs, which in
turn brings in leopards. People have been advised to carry torches in dark hours.

Nikit Surve from the Wildlife Conservation Society-India says the last leopard attack on a human took place in 2017. Surve has set up series of camera traps along the boundary of SGNP to track the leopard movement and numbers.

“Awareness has changed everything; our campaigns are well under way,” says Snowy Baptista, who is associated with Mumbaikars for SGNP. There have been incidents of leopard-spotting on the IIT-Bombay campus and inside the bungalow of actor-politician Hema Malini.

Sometimes, the leopards, being good at camouflage, escape or have to be darted and taken to SGNP’s Leopard Rescue Centre.

Published 29 February 2020, 19:29 IST

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