A leopard can't change its spots, but you can. To avert any man-leopard conflict in Aarey Milk Colony, which is home to some eight leopards, the Mumbai territorial range of the Thane Forest Department has asked owners of cattle sheds in the vicinity to ensure that their workers don't sleep in the open, the carcasses of cattle are disposed of in a proper manner and there is adequate lighting around tabelas.

"We have written a letter to all tabela owners in Aarey, informing them that they should dispose of carcasses of cattle in a proper manner. Around two years ago, we were told that some tabela owners were dumping buffalo carcasses in the open. At that time, we had told them to make sure that this did not recur; the practice then stopped. We don't want such things to happen in future, too. So, we wrote to the tabela owners, reminding them of the same," said a forest department official. Carcasses discarded in the open attract stray dogs, which, in turn, lead to leopards straying into residential areas.

In its letter, the department directed cattle shed owners to provide their workers with rooms to sleep in.

Not enough
A tabela owner, however, pointed out that taking such measures alone would not prevent man-animal conflicts. "Streetlights in a few arterial roads are defunct. This increases chances of conflicts. The authorities must, therefore, ensure that adequate lighting is provided in all places. We have been following the rules. All dead animals are disposed of in a proper manner. We don't get proper facilities from the Aarey Milk Colony administration," he said.

There have been frequent sightings of leopards in Aarey in the night. KP Singh, chief conservator of forests, Thane (territorial), has directed his team to conduct constant patrols in the area. Forest department personnel have also been interacting with the locals on ways to co-exist peacefully with the big cats.