Over 2000 children from five civic-run schools in and around theAarey Milk Colony were educated about leopards and how man-animal conflict can be minimised, in a first-of-its-kind initiative by officials of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park today.
The initiative, ‘Mumbaikars for SGNP’, saw SGNP officials conduct day-long awareness programmes about man-animal conflict at five Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) schools. An hour-long session was carried out in each of the five BMC schools that saw around 2000 children in attendance. These schools comprised of two Marathi medium schools, two Tamil medium institutions and 1 Hindi medium school.
Seven volunteers from Mumbaikars for SGNP along with four officials from Thane Territorial Division and SGNP led the awareness sessions. Speaking to Sunday MiD DAY after the event, one student said, “It was an interactive session between students and the volunteers and we were told about the preventive measures we need to take to avoid a potential conflict with a leopard. We will follow all the things told to us.”
This awareness programme was planned with the aim to educate students of schools that fall under the human-leopard conflict zone. It awareness programme was also aimed at educating the students that the leopard is the biggest victim of the situation. “People living in this conflict zone need to learn how to survive in an area that has historically belonged to the leopard. . We chose to talk to the children since they go back home and educate their parents in turn,” said Vikas Gupta, chief conservator forest, Sanjay Gandhi National Park “We had arranged the sessions so that children of the region are told how to be careful and act wisely if they spot a leopard. The programme will only help kids take precaution, which will help them tackle potentially dangerous situations in a calmer way,” said KP Singh, Chief Conservator, Thane Forest Department.
What they learnt
The fact that there are over 600 dogs in the periphery of the forest area as per the study conducted by the SGNP, was shared with the children. It was explained to them that stray dogs form a large part of the leopard’s prey base which is why the big cat sometimes ventures close to their homes. They were advised to keep their surroundings clean and not to dump garbage everywhere, since it attracts dogs and pigs, which in turn attracts leopards. They were also briefed about not venturing out alone after dark and given a number of instructions to be shared with their parents such as using a mobile phone’s light or playing songs on the phone speaker even if it’s an adult person walking alone. “We have put up posters all over the school with SGNP helpline numbers that are available 24*7 in case of any emergency,” explained Vidya Venkatesh, project co-ordinator, Mumbaikars for SGNP
Rahul Thapad, a Class nine student and a resident of Khambyacha Pada said, “I didn’t know that we were supposed to be as quiet as possible and stand in one place if we saw a leopard. We were told that we should just let the animal pass without making any noise or movement that could cause the animal to feel threatened. And in no case should we run away or throw stones at the big cat. This awareness programme taught me many unknown things.” Pooja Gaikwad, a 13-year-old student who stays at Unit No 6 near (near Aarey Diary) explained, “We were informed about how tall and uncut grass near our homes attracts leopards. I will henceforth make sure we trim all the grassy areas surrounding our home.”
Words of wisdom
SGNP’s advice for Aarey area residents:
>> Stand still and let the leopard pass
>> Do not throw stones or run
>> Children should not be out alone after dark
>> Adults should use mobile phone light or play songs when walking after dark
>> Trim tall grassy areas or shrubs near home
>> Do not litter. Garbage attracts dogs, which brings leopards to the scene