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A not-so-happy urban jungle book

The contrast doesn’t get more in-your-face. It’s a stunning, panoramic view from one of Powai’s high-rises, neon facade lounge bars, where the swish set are enjoying their tipples to the beats of loud Bollywood music.

The calm waters of the Powai Lake in the backdrop glisten in the moonlight. The mood is heady; and the towering spires that dot the skyscape give the impression of being on planet cool.

Meanwhile, barely a few kilometres away, and possibly unknown to most of the well-heeled crowd, a leopard plays truant with forest officials working overtime with the hope of tranquilising it after it entered the IIT Powai campus a few days earlier. Rumours fly thick and fast of the exact numbers, and other goings-on inside the enclosure.

So how did it come down to this? The very ground on which the hipsters groove all night was once dense jungle. Ask any soul who needed to pass this stretch, from the eastern to the western suburbs or vice versa, all those decades ago.

This journalist recalls stories of how older relatives would regale the family at dinners with stories of spotting big cats from the Sanjay Gandhi National park nearby cross their paths along this stretch after dark, en route to the international airport or while driving home after a late night flight.

While Mumbai remains probably the world’s only mega city with a national park within its borders, we seem to be playing with fire as far as stepping into animal territory is concerned.

Man-animal conflict zones are common across several urban locations in India but nowhere is the scenario as obvious as it is in Mumbai, where sightings occur throughout the stretch that borders SGNP.

How far are we going to go to push out and destroy their rightful homes? It’s a tough call for a city that is spilling out from every side, where every conceivable bit of land is built upon, and where a square foot of space is worth its weight in gold.

But we must strive to protect what is left of the city’s last few surviving green lungs. It’s a tough war against real estate giants who will go to any length to comb our forest covers and foliage, paying no heed to the environmental fallout.

Each time a big cat shows up at our doorstep, it is a telling reminder that we are treading upon their space. One hopes the price this teeming metropolis has to pay isn’t too hefty. The tagline on an environmentalist friend’s internet chat status sums things up There is no Plan B for Mother Nature.

The writer is Features Editor of mid-day

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