The report prepared by Biologist and Principal Researcher Vidya Athreya, along with Forest department officials, as a part of the ‘Mumbaikars for SGNP’ was finally made public on Thursday. The report has brought some shocking facts to the fore, one of which was the main reason behind increasing number of leopard attacks in Aarey Colony could be attributed to the presence of 700 stray dogs on its premises. In addition, big cat images captured by setting camera traps revealed there were 21 leopards in Borivli national park and Aarey Colony.
The report also provided answers to the questions raised by a few experts about leopards leaving forests and entering human settlement in search of prey due to shortage in the forest. A study of herbivores suggested that overall population of chital and sambar, natural prey of leopard, was abundant in the central, southern and western part of the park. The report also stated low density of wild pig and four-horned antelope in the park.
Athreya said, “A minimum of 21 adult leopards were identified using camera trap images in SGNP and the surrounding areas of Aarey Colony. We also did a study on the dog population, which provides easy prey base to leopards, and was estimated in and around Aarey Colony through direct visual count. The area has high density of approximate 57 dogs per sq km. Occurrence of fire, followed by local collection of wood, grass and fruits among others, seemed to be the most common forms of human disturbance and therefore the park management may need to address these threats first. It is recommended that positive human presence (forest department and wildlife viewers) be increased in the northern and eastern parts of the park.”
Later, mediapersons were briefed on the biodiversity of the national park and were taken for a visit to Tulsi lake and sites of leopard attack in Aarey Colony. After visiting the sites, experts pointed out that leopard attacks in Aarey could be reduced if the area is kept clean, and people avoid going in to bushes after dark to answer nature’s call. Wildlife Expert Krishna Tiwari, “Most of the attacks that took place in Aarey were because of human mistake, as people who were attacked by leopards were usual in a crouching position. If dumping of garbage and cattle carcasses is stopped, then we can avert leopard attacks.”
The issue of trapping leopards was also mulled and experts said forest department trapping big cats was not a good idea, as it would only worsen the human-leopard conflict. Athreya said, “Whenever an animal from one area is captured, another animal comes and occupies it space. Research done in the past has shown that translocation of animal or releasing the trapped animal at another location only worsens the issue in the area where the animal is released.”
Mumbaikars for SGNP Project
This yearlong project was initiated primarily to address the human-leopard conflict in SGNP. It was a collaborative effort between the Forest Department, Centre for Wildlife Studies (Bangalore) and members of civil society to try and understand more about the conflict and plan for future mitigatory actions to ease the problem in terms of management/research action and policy. The project had set tasks like obtaining baseline data on number of leopards in SGNP, assessing prey population, both wild and domestic, identifying patterns of conflict to derive logical explanations, assessing stakeholders’ perception and dissemination of the research findings among stakeholders.