Waterhole census in Sanjay Gandhi National Park: 6 leopards spotted in 24 hrs

Over 100 pair of eyes kept vigil at waterholes across national park in Borivli on Saturday; other sightings include wild boars and spotted deer

Following its annual tradition, this year too the waterhole census was organised at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park on the occasion of Buddha Poornima. Census involved volunteers and forest guards keeping an eye on the waterholes across Borivli national park, including Tungareshwar and Yeeor ranges, from Saturday 5 pm to Sunday 5 pm. The census was carried out on Buddha Poornima, as it is easier to spot animals during full moon.

By analysing its pugmarks, two volunteers try to figure out which animal visited a waterhole in Yeoor. Pic/Darshan Ambre
By analysing its pugmarks, two volunteers try to figure out which animal visited a waterhole in Yeoor. Pic/Darshan Ambre

Officials from SGNP told mid-day that six leopards and a few wild boards were spotted on the Borivli side, while majority of the volunteers saw spotted deer.

A forest guard scans the area for wildlife at a waterhole in Yeoor range. Pic/Atul Kamble
A forest guard scans the area for wildlife at a waterhole in Yeoor range. Pic/Atul Kamble

“We received hundreds of calls. Everybody wanted to be a part of the census so that they could spot a leopard and other wild animals. This year, we witnessed a rise in the number of calls. Most of the callers claimed they were inspired by Steve Winter’s iconic leopard image. The image has had a positive impact on the minds of people and is helping in leopard conservation,” said a forest department (FD) officer.

Volunteers lookout for the animals from a machan. Pic/Prabhanjan Dhanu
Volunteers lookout for the animals from a machan. Pic/Prabhanjan Dhanu

With the overwhelming response the initiative received this year, the authorities resorted to lottery system to allot locations to the volunteers participating in the census. Assistant Conservator of Forests (ACF) Uday Dhage said, “More than 100 people, including volunteers and forest guards, were part of the waterhole census that lasted 24 hours (Saturday 5 pm to Sunday 5 pm). We will soon compile the data from all the waterholes.”

'It scared the living daylights out of us'
Pune: Around 5.45 pm on Saturday, we (forest guard, a colleague and myself) reached the Sambarshing point in Bhimashankar wildlife sanctuary and took our positions near the waterhole.

The moment we heard a loud noise around 8.45 pm, forest guard Chindu Dhemase sounded the leopard alert. Though foggy, we got a clear view of the big cat as it approached the waterhole. We could hear him drink. Instead of leaving, the leopard loitered around and twice came close to our hide. We assumed that the big cat had left, as we could no longer hear the rustling of the foliage around.

But the leopard returned at 9.20 pm and roared loudly before leaving. Relieved that the animal had left, I decided to take a nap. But the big cat returned and this time roared just a few metres away from our hideout, thus scaring the living daylights out of us. Around 10.20 pm we left our spot and covered three kilometres in the dark with just a stick and torch before the rescue team found us. Presence of pugmarks near the waterhole confirmed our claim of spotting a leopard when we revisited the waterhole last morning.

— Chaitraly Deshmukh

Voices

Darshan Ambre, photographer who has been participating in the census for the last four years
A friend of mine told me about the stunning images taken by Steve Winter, so I went to Yeoor this year. Though we didn’t spot any leopard, we heard alarm calls raised by deer and monkeys indicating the big cat’s presence in the area. It’s not always about spotting wild animals. Sitting in a machan in the middle of a forest on a full moon night is an experience of a lifetime.

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