In a direct violation of guidelines set by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), three leopards caught from Aarey Milk Colony since November are being kept in the same cages they were trapped in as there is no space in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) to house them. All enclosures at the park’s Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre are reportedly full.
Adding to this, Bombay Territorial Range of Thane Forest Department is yet to release the animals, which are healthy, into the wild. According to the Human-Leopard Conflict Management guidelines set by the MoEF, a trapped leopard should be taken to the rescue centre and should be kept in a proper enclosure where it can move freely.
The animal should be examined and if found fit, should be immediately released into the forest. “Only the leopard trapped after the attack at Maroshipada has been kept in a proper enclosure,” said a source from SGNP rescue centre. “There is no place to house the other three leopards. Keeping the animal in the same cage in which it was trapped is wrong as it stresses the animal and makes it aggressive. The Bombay Territorial Range of Thane Forest Department should release the animals at the earliest.”
The Aarey Colony area is under the jurisdiction of Bombay Territorial Range of the Thane Forest Department. As there is no space at Thane to house the animals, all the leopards are taken to SGNP Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. However, the decision of releasing the animals is taken by Thane Forest Department.
Biologist Vidya Athreya from Centre for Wildlife Studies (Bangalore) said, “Yes, there needs to be a better option to house the animals so that they are released immediately if they are not the ones who attacked humans. When the animals are kept in cage, care should be taken and people should stay away from the animal so that they don’t get used to humans. There definitely can be better amenities for the transit facility to ensure the animals have minimal human contact and good space to live.”
Bittu Sehgal, wildlife expert and editor of Sanctuary Asia said, “The so-called leopard problem is not a leopard problem but a human one. We know how to reduce risks. But so long as politicians and social activists continue to insist on “high densities of humans and leopards can coexist” the conflict will continue. Trapping animals is a waste of time and only aggravates the problem. There are very clear protocols for such situations, but these are short-circuited routinely at the cost of innocent victims.”
According to Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF), Thane Forest Department R K Pole, out of the four leopards trapped from Aarey Milk colony between November, 2012 and February, 2013, three are fit for release and these animals will be released in a day or two. “There is no place in SGNP to keep the leopards as all cages are full. As they (Thane forest department) does not have place to keep the animal, they have sent the animal to SGNP,” said Sunil Limaye, SGNP director and chief conservator of forests (CCF).
Between November 2012 and February 2013, six leopards were trapped in the cages set by Thane Forest Department at Aarey Milk Colony. Two leopards were released into the wild. Three leopards have been kept in the same cage in which they were caught. Another leopard, which is not fit for release as its canine teeth are broken and will find it difficult to hunt, has been kept in a captivity cage. At present, there are 21 leopards at the rescue and rehabilitation centre at SGNP. None are fit for release.