On duty with the leopard patrol at Aarey Milk Colony
Ranjeet Jadhav and Pradeep Dhivar accompany the SGNP Leopard Rescue Team as they visit different areas in Aarey Milk Colony to lay traps to capture the beast and also create awareness among locals
With the rise in the number of human-leopard conflict cases at Aarey Milk Colony, the patrol and rescue team from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) has been quite busy. This paper gives you an account of their daily routine.
The SGNP patrolling team
Every day around 5.30 pm, the six-member Leopard RescueTeam, which is an expert in capturing the animal, sets out for Aarey Milk Colony. The team comprises rescue members Sanjay Pagare, Sachin Patil, Mukesh More, Namdeo Jhirve, veterinary officer of SGNP Dr Sanjeev Pinjarkar, and a driver. As soon as they reach the colony, the team gets ready with its equipment -- torches and tranquiliser guns.
The team first reached Adarsh Nagar in the colony, where the leopard attack had taken place. The patrol began with the setting up of a cage. After speaking with locals and understanding the path the leopard usually took, the trap was set at the back of Adarsh Nagar, with a live broiler chicken as bait. The area was cordoned off to restrict people from disturbing the cage. Sanjay Pagare, a rescue team member, said “It’s routine for us and proper care is taken while setting up the cage. If the animal feels human presence near the cage, it won’t come to eat the bait.”
After setting up the cage, the team goes to Adarsh ground where the attack had taken place. MiD DAY found that in spite of the spot being known for leopard attacks, children still continued to play in the ground after dark. Even when public toilets were available, people continued to answer nature’s call in the bushes. This, according to rescue team members, is a risk as the leopard may mistake the crouching human for an animal and pounce. The team called the children and explained to them, the dos and don’ts to keep safe from the animal.
The team moved on from Adarsh Nagar and started patrolling the road. While moving on deserted roads, using torches and floodlights, the team looked into the forest to see if they could spot the wild cat. The group also stopped at various locations en route to the VIP guesthouse to speak to people and warn them not to come out on the roads alone.
We reached Khadak Pada, the area where four-year-old Hiya Mhase was mauled to death earlier this month. Soon after reaching the area, the patrolling team got a tip-off that a leopard had been sighted near a cage set up at Khadak Pada. Immediately, members did a recce of the area to check for the beast’s presence. They also instructed everyone to go inside their houses and inform the Forest Department, in case they saw the leopard. “We have been staying at SGNP from more than 30 years, but have never been attacked. The reason is simple. We don’t let our children out of the house after dark. If the people staying in Aarey Milk Colony take similar precautions, attacks here can be avoided too,” said Pagare.
The troupe reached Matai Pada, a tribal hamlet a few metres away from Khadak Pada. Here, the Forest Department started patrolling on foot on the road that leads to the VIP guesthouse. After about 20 minutes, the first session came to an end. A similar three-hour patrol session would be held in the morning from 4 am - 7 am.
Patrolling by Thane Forest Department
As Aarey Milk Colony area falls under the jurisdiction of Mumbai Territorial Range of Thane Forest Department, the Thane FD also sends out night patrol teams between 6 pm and 6am. As the forest department squad doesn’t have a rescue team, it usually visits the padas for regular rounds and keeps a watch in the night with the help of a vehicle. At every pada, the FD has a register where they sign to show that they are on duty.
Selected images by our Principal Photographer Pradeep Dhivar
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Caught on Camera: Aarey is a leopard colony