Ovala leopard attack: High walls and fencing cannot stop leopards, say experts

In the wake of growing number of leopard attacks on stray and pet dogs in Ovala, Thane, residents had asked the Forest Dept to increase the height of the boundary wall along SGNP

Frequent leopard sightings in the Ovala area of Thane and growing instances of the wildcat preying on stray and pet dogs have made the worried residents demand that the Forest Department (FD) increase the height of the boundary wall along the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and install barbed wire on it to prevent the animal from leaving the park.

A video grab of the CCTV footage showing one of the leopards leaving the lawn in the wee hours of August 8
A video grab of the CCTV footage showing one of the leopards leaving the lawn in the wee hours of August 8

However, FD officials and wildlife experts say none of the suggested solutions would be applicable to the leopards as they can easily climb high walls and jump fences. They said the only way to keep leopards away from residential areas was to install floodlights and taking all possible precautions.

Cocoa, the year-old Rottweiler that was preyed upon by the leopards
Cocoa, the year-old Rottweiler that was preyed upon by the leopards

A resident from one of the bungalows in the area said, “We have been staying here for the last 18 months, but never thought that a leopard might come and take away a pet dog. We are not against the wildlife, but our only demand is that a higher boundary wall should be constructed and barbed wire be installed on it to keep leopards away from humans.”

Last week, footage of a leopardess and her cub entering a bungalow and preying on a sleeping pet dog was recovered from a CCTV camera installed in the lawn. While the leopardess left the bungalow with the kill, the cub played in the lawn for the next two hours until its mother came looking for it.

When this correspondent visited the bungalow, he observed that the leopards had managed to climb and cross the 10-feet high boundary wall embedded with glass pieces with ease.

Expert speak
Speaking to mid-day, biologist and leopard expert Dr Vidya Athreya from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said, “Constructing walls and installing fences won’t help much, as leopards are excellent climbers.

The only way to prevent them from entering residential areas is through installation of floodlights and keeping pets indoors after dark. Our team from Mumbaikars for SGNP (MfSGNP) conducted an awareness drive — Living with Leopards in the area yesterday to inform locals about the Dos and Don’ts while cohabiting with the wildlife.”

Commenting on the awareness drive, Sonu Singh from MfSGNP said, “The resident staying in the society, from where the pet dog was picked up, requested us to conduct ‘Living with Leopards’ session at the nearby pada instead of just doing it for their society of six bungalows of which only one is occupied.

The MfSGNP team along with SGNP rescue team conducted the session for the residents and villagers of Pankhanda. The villagers had been residing in the pada for four generations and had maintained cleanliness in the area. They keep their pets indoors, if any, as a precautionary measure. They also ensure that their young ones don’t venture outdoors after 7 pm.”

Official speak
Chief Conservator of Forests (Thane) K P Singh said, “Our team has already started patrolling the area during nighttime and soon camera traps will also be installed. We would also like to request the residents to light up the area surrounding their house adequately and if possible, keep their pets indoor after dark.

In case they see a wild animal in the vicinity, then they should immediately inform our control room so that a team can reach the spot immediately and take necessary action.”

The leopard attack
A leopardess and her cub attacked Cocoa, a year-old Rottweiler, on the lawn of the bungalow owned by Santosh and Aarti Gupta in the wee hours of August 8.

A scrutiny of the CCTV footage installed in the lawn revealed that while the leopardess killed the dog and left the bungalow, the cub played in the lawn for nearly two hours before its mother came looking for it.

The Guptas said it took them two days to locate Cocoa. They found the half eaten carcass on Sunday afternoon around 4.15 pm. The search operation was initiated with the help of volunteers from (Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare) RAWW.

They said family members scanned the entire village, Pankhanda, located three kilometres from their bungalow and spoke to several villagers. It was here that they discovered that the number of leopard attacks on strays and pet dogs in the area had escalated in the last three to four months.

“In last one month, there have been over 11 leopard attacks on dogs, including four pets. Of these attacks only a German Shepherd survived. On Sunday, our dog was attacked and picked by two leopards that entered the lawn at 11.35 pm and stayed there till 3 am,” said Aarti.

The bungalow where the Guptas reside is close to Sanjay Gandhi National Park and picking up of stray dogs by leopards from the neighbouring adivasi padas has become a common phenomenon.

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