With no space at the leopard rescue centre inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), the forest department has released three leopards kept in captivity for more than a month. The environment ministry’s guidelines on leopard-human conflict management, however, state that if an animal has been kept in captivity for more than a month, it should not be released back into the wild.
Since November 2012, The territorial division of the forest department had captured four leopards from Maroshi Pada, one from Khambyacha Pada and one from Adarsh Nagar, Aarey Colony. While two are still in captivity, one is in a rescue centre and the rest have been released in the Tulsi range of the park.
The guidelines were brought by the ministry of environment and forests in April 2011 as a primer for citizens and forest officials to deal with man-animal conflict, leopard trappings, leopard translocation and release. According to senior forest officials, the animals had to be released, as the rescue centre had no space. “The guidelines are not mandatory. As we were facing space crunch, keeping the animals in cages after they were treated for injuries seemed inappropriate,” said GT Chavan, deputy conservator of forests, Mumbai range.
“Presently, one of the two leopards in captivity is old and has a broken tooth while the other one, Bindu, has been captured thrice. We are yet to decide on Bindu’s release,” said Sunil Limaye, director, SGNP.
As the trapped leopards were housed in trap cages for over two months, the territorial division of the forest department also faced a shortage of trap cages.
According to sources from the forest department, all four cages were used to house the trapped leopards. “We had to repair two old rickety cages and order one from the Shahpur division,” said a forest official, requesting anonymity.
Experts said that keeping leopards in temporary captivity works only if they are away from human contact.
“If leopards are in captivity for long, there should be minimal human contact and the cages should be clean,” said Vidya Athreya, wildlife biologist, centre for wildlife studies, Bangalore.