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Home > Lifestyle News > Nature And Wildlife News > Article > Mumbais little known tryst with tigers and the continued need for conservation efforts

Mumbai’s little-known tryst with tigers and the continued need for conservation efforts

Updated on: 30 July,2023 06:27 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Nascimento Pinto |

Many may not know that Mumbai has a history with tigers. One of the last recorded sightings of the big cat's pug marks here was in 2003 on the border of Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. A naturalist who was a part of that exercise recounts the experience, while another highlights the need for conservation in India

Mumbai’s little-known tryst with tigers and the continued need for conservation efforts

A tiger spotted in Ranthambore, Rajasthan. Photo Courtesy: Mahesh Yadav

City-based naturalist Shardul Bajikar considers himself among the lucky few in Mumbai to have been in the team which spotted the pug marks of a tiger in 2003, on the border of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. “I was in the last year of my college, and not many people wanted to go to the forest area, where locals had said they had spotted a tiger. So, I jumped at the opportunity,” says Bajikar, who has been associated with the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali for over 20 years now. The spotting of the tiger in 2003 helped Tungareshwar to be declared as a protected forest, within a year. 

“Very few people saw it but the pug marks and cattle kill gave enough evidence to suggest that tigers were active in the area for around three months,” he adds. The fact that the locals reported cattle kill and not smaller animals, which are usually killed by leopards, was another indication of the tiger. “I was with Wildlife Warden Mayur Kamath at the watering hole, and we came down to the base to eat breakfast and we noticed pug marks close by, and then there were a few ahead, where photographers were waiting to click pictures, but the tiger went into the forest, and got back on the trail from another place,” he says, recounting the experience.  

Every year, July 29 is celebrated as Global Tiger Day to celebrate the carnivore, which also happens to be the national animal of India. While many states in the country including Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka have some of the largest numbers, Maharashtra is not far behind. What many may not have known is that within the state, the city of Mumbai too has a history with the animal. The spotting in 2003 was among the few times that tigers have been spotted in the city, in the last century. Prior to that, Bajikar says among the last recorded spottings of a tiger was near Vihar Lake in 1929 and before that at Gowalia Tank in 1822, Pydhonie and Ghodbunder bridge. Unfortunately, In the case of the Vihar Lake spotting, the tiger ended up being shot. 

Corridors and conservation
Bajikar wasn’t entirely surprised by his experience in 2003, based on how the region was laid out back then. He explains, “If you look at the north of Bombay -- from Vasai to Tungareshwar, Vajreshwari and there on, it is a relatively less densely populated area. It turns green during the monsoon, making them seasonal corridors and the presence of nocturnal corridors also lets tigers travel freely without people actually seeing them.” 

However, the SGNP naturalist says from what is present, there are many things threatening the animal’s connectivity to Tungareshwar. Some of them are the Ghodbunder bridge, Vasai-Diwa railway line and the Virar-Alibaug corridor which is coming up, is where SGNP and the wildlife sanctuary meet and that is why it is threatened. On whether the presence of wildlife was taken into account at the time of building these infrastructural projects, he notes, “The agencies have said they have factored it in but only the tigers will tell whether it has been factored in.” This highlights the possibility of not only tigers but also leopards and other animals, who could wind up being involved in a collision. However, this can be mitigated by putting in a safety rider that it could also be dangerous for the people in the vehicle due to the collision with an animal. 

Bivash Pandav, director, Bombay Natural History Society and Mumbai-based naturalist Shardul Bajikar. Photo Courtesy: Bivash Pandav/Shardul Bajikar 

As of date, Bajikar believes that the Kanha-Pench Corridor is a good example because data actually shows that tigers pass from under it. The underpass connects the Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves in central India between Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. He says, “It is a benchmark to think ahead due to the size, population and diversity of our country. If you are factoring in animal movement, then it is a win-win situation while talking about development projects. Enough should be done because animals will adapt.” According to him, data has shown that more than half of the tigers are living out of the tiger reserves and the national parks. So, these areas are begging for protection and we need to make sure they are connected with a larger forest area.

Adapting for conservation
Bajikar isn’t the only one in the city who thinks the Kanha-Pench Reserve has achieved success in highlighting the need for conservation to be considered while planning development projects. Bivash Pandav, director, Bombay Natural History Society, believes that the corridor between the two states is pertinent for tiger conservation and conservation should be made a part of the curriculum of all development projects in India. He suggests that instead of laying the road on the ground, they can be elevated or made as a tunnel, so that animals can go under them just as in the successful Kanha-Pench corridor. Pandav, who started his career with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), speaks from years of experience. In 2010, he also coordinated World Wildlife Fund’s Tiger Programme, working in 11 tiger habitats across Asia and addressing conservation issues. 

While creating corridors of this kind needs to be done, India has a different challenge when it comes to conservation. The fact that it is densely populated means the forest area isn’t continuous and these areas are often linked to each other by a narrow patch called a corridor. “If there is a small linear patch of forest and a road is constructed there, then the forest disappears quickly and that leads to forest fragmentation. Once that happens, the animal population gets isolated, and they are not able to move from one patch to another patch,” he explains. 

This doesn’t work well for tigers, Pandav says, because they are designed to disperse by design. After they are born, they move away from the mother after three years, and to do that they need the forest patches to be connected to each other. Unfortunately, if they don’t get that, they enter into an area inhabited by humans, and that leads to man-animal conflict. The degradation of the quality of forests — from overgrazing by cattle and frequent forest fires, for instance — is another area of concern for the wildlife biologist. 

However, Pandav says that India has achieved stellar success in the last 15 years because of efforts from people and the government. The fact that India has 60 per cent of the world's tiger population is proof of the efforts but it needs to continue. “We have to manage our forests, make sure they are connected to each other, protect them, and ensure there is proper development in coherence with conservation,” he concludes. 

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