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Hit-and-run: Leopard killed on Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway

A study has revealed that in the past 20 years, 40 other leopards have suffered similar fates on the peripheries of Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary

A one-year-old leopard was killed in a hit-and-run accident in the wee hours yesterday, near Ghodbunder village on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway. The leopard was the 41st animal to be killed in highways near Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary (TWS) in the past 20 years.

Early on Sunday, Jogeshwari resident Parag Mayekar and his friends were on their way to Jivdani temple in Virar on their bikes, when they saw the animal lying inert on the stretch of Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway just before Ghodbunder village. Pic/Parag Mayekar
Early on Sunday, Jogeshwari resident Parag Mayekar and his friends were on their way to Jivdani temple in Virar on their bikes, when they saw the animal lying inert on the stretch of Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway just before Ghodbunder village. Pic/Parag Mayekar

A study conducted under the ‘Mumbaikars for SGNP’ initiative of SGNP in 2012 revealed that 40 leopards have died in road accidents along the periphery of SGNP between 1994-2011.

A majority of the accidents took place on the stretch between Ghodbunder village and Vasai, near TWS. Some accidents were reported on the Bhandup-NITIE Road adjacent to IIT Road and on Thane-Ghodbunder Road, which is forested on either side.

Early on Sunday, Jogeshwari resident Parag Mayekar and his friends were on their way to Jivdani temple in Virar, on their bikes. Just before Ghodbunder village on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway, Parag saw a leopard lying in the middle of the road. Motorists driving by were not stopping their vehicles.

“Around 5.15 am, I saw that a leopard was lying in the middle of the road. We got off our bikes and saw the animal lying unconscious. We immediately lifted the animal and moved it to the side of the road.

It was obvious that a speeding vehicle had knocked down the animal while it was trying to cross the road. In some time, the patrolling vehicle came, after which we also informed the SGNP rescue team. We took the animal in a rickshaw to the forest beat chowky near Fountain hotel.”

Dr Sanjeev Pinjarkar, a veterinary doctor from SGNP, said, “The animal is a one-year-old female leopard. It was already dead when our rescue team reached the spot near Ghodbunder village. The death was caused by severe injury caused by a fast-moving object.”

There has been an average of two leopards deaths every year due to road accidents. The numbers shot up in the years 2002 and 2007, with seven and six deaths recorded respectively.

The data also indicates that accidents are significantly higher between December and May, with December being the most dangerous. They are less frequent in the monsoon months.

On the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway, leopards are most vulnerable on the stretch between Delhi Darbar Inn and Kolli Chowki, along with spots around Chena.

“Accidents appear to be fairly common along the highway at Tungareshwar, which has forested patches on either side of the road, with a natural ascent on one side of the road and a fairly steep descent on the other end,” said a scholar who was part of the study.

He added that several of the accident spots, especially around Chena had garbage dumps, a probable reason for noticeable leopard activity in the area.

Officialspeak
Vikas Gupta, SGNP director and chief conservator of forest, said, “We are going to speak to the National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) to find solutions. We will try to restrict speeding of vehicles in that area, where animals cross frequently.

We will also discuss the possibility of constructing an underpass for wild animals with agencies. We have taken note of the points highlighted in the study on leopard deaths on the highway.

We will speak with local civic bodies and ask them to take strict action against dhabas and hotels that dump garbage on the periphery of SGNP and TWS.”

Experts speak
The only way to prevent accidents is by creating a wildlife underpass below the highways so that wild animals who want to cross the road can easily do so.

Motorists using the Mumbai–Ahmedabad highway and Thane-Ghodbunder Road tend to speed on this stretch, endangering the animals. The forest department should collaborate with IIT Bombay and come up with a suitable design for an underpass. - Vidya Athreya, biologist

The Forest Department should start night patrolling in the area. Information boards should be put up to alert motorists to slow down so that animals crossing the road are not harmed. Local municipal corporations and government agencies should also take action against hotel owners who dump the garbage along the highway.

Most of the times, the dogs gather at these garbage dumps and as dogs are easy prey, the leopards are attracted. - Krishna Tiwari, Forest and Wildlife Conservation Centre

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