Uncontrolled urbanisation near forest areas in the city is intensifying conflict between humans and animals. Two people have been killed, and one seriously injured, in leopard attacks in the span of a week. There have been six such incidents over the last two months.
Vandana Pingle, 12, and Harishchandra Ghorat, 70, were killed in separate leopard attacks in the jungle areas of Vasai and Kashimira, while eight-year-old Chirag Patil had a narrow escape after he shouted for help. Forest officials say that all the six attacks took place around the Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary in Vasai.
Official blame increase in human settlements in forest areas for the problem. Sunil Limaye, director of Sanjay National Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivli, said: “The attacks have mainly occurred in areas such as Shivanshi and Chandip, which have a sizeable population of migrant labourers living without proper shelters. They are vulnerable to attacks because they sleep in the open and often venture into the core forest area to collect firewood.”
The national park had launched a project called ‘Mumbaikars for Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Leopards’ in September wherein 25 wildlife scientists, experts and forest authorities started working on ways to reduce the man-animal conflict. Currently, 10 camera traps have been laid to study leopards’ movements, while 21 are in captivity inside the park.
Depletion of prey is another reason behind the attacks. “The leopards largely live off dogs since the prey count has gone down and they are easy to catch. Studies conducted on leopard droppings show that 50% of it contains remains of dogs. The man-animal conflict is a difficult thing to avoid today,” said Krishna Tiwari of Bombay Natural History Society.
The SGNP is stepping up its awareness campaign on man-animal conflict by erecting more warning boards near danger zones, employing more forest personnel on the periphery and educating the masses on how to react in the event of a leopard attack. It has also set up traps in areas where locals have sighted leopards.