The Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation’s (MMRC) claim that there are no leopards in Aarey Milk Colony has been proved wrong once again, with a local resident having spotted and recorded a video of a leopard near the New Zealand hostel just last week.
Aarey resident Imran Udat spotted this leopard near the New Zealand hostel
In a November 25 story, mid-day had reported that activists were gathering evidence to prove MMRC’s claim (see box) wrong. The NGO Vanashakti has also filed a plea with the National Green Tribunal, with details of the biodiversity at Aarey, including the frequent movement of leopards there.
Last week, Aarey resident Imran Udat spotted the big cat on his way to a friend’s house. Recounting the incident, Udat said, "I have been staying in Aarey for over 30 years and have seen leopards, the small Indian civet, monitor lizards and different types of reptiles on numerous occasions. Last week, when I was going to my friend’s place, I saw a few dogs barking in a particular direction; they sounded afraid. I stopped my motorbike, took out my camera and a flashlight to scan the area."
Just then, Udat saw two glowing eyes behind a tree and noticed a leopard lurking there. "I started recording a video of the leopard. It was just a few hundred metres away from the New Zealand hostel," he said.
Imran's friend Darshan Dhoke — who was travelling with him — also saw the animal. He said, "After I saw the leopard last week, I became convinced that Aarey should be kept untouched. It acts as a crucial habitat for wild animals and is also one of the last surviving open spaces for Mumbaikars. By doing any kind of development here, we would lose precious green cover."
Udat said he saw the leopard there for almost three to four minutes. “Initially, it tried to hide behind a tree. After a few minutes, it went and sat near a wall. While I was taking the video, it looked at me and ran into the bushes,” he added.
Researcher and naturalist Rajesh Sanap said, "It's not just leopards that are found here; Aarey has a rich biodiversity which needs to be protected. It would be wrong to say that there are no leopards in Aarey. There are news reports about man-animal conflict that have been reported from Aarey, and in the last 15 years, many leopards have been officially trapped here by the Forest Department."
Authorities increase patrolling inside Aarey, SGNP for festive season
With Christmas and New Year’s round the corner, the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and Aarey Milk Colony have decided to increase patrolling in the park. Those found illegally roaming in the areas would have to face strict action. The decision has also been taken keeping in mind the rising incidents of forest fires inside Aarey. The authorities have also involved the police department.
The patrolling and monitoring of both Aarey and SGNP will be tightened, especially for the next week to keep a watch on unscrupulous elements. The NGT has instructed the authorities to register an FIR against those deliberately lighting fires in the forested patch inside Aarey. The Aarey Chief Executive Officer’s (CEO) office has also instructed its security department to take strict action against those seen lighting the fires.
"We have already increased the patrolling, and during Christmas and New Year’s, it would be intensified. Strict action, as per the law, will be taken against those responsible," said Sachin Repal, assistant conservator of forests.
In an intervention application to the NGT, MMRC stated: ‘The applicants have referred to the incidents of leopards entering human habitation as a reason to maintain Aarey as an important buffer zone. The contention makes no sense. As of today, no activity in Aarey land pursuant to the sanctioned use of car depot has commenced. It is recently been reported that the leopards are not coming out of SGNP.’