The Mumbai forest range trapped a male leopard at Mathai Pada, near unit 25 of Aarey Milk Colony, Goregaon, on Friday. The sudden move has infuriated wildlife activists.
This is the second leopard-trapping incident in two months after an eight-year-old male leopard was caught and shifted to Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) from Hiranandani, Powai, by the forest department in November.
According to forest officials, the local tribal (adivasi) community residing near the area had filed a complaint with the Mumbai and Thane forest range several times over the past one-and-half months. The department had set up a trap cage in the area earlier this week, after getting clearances from the chief wildlife warden, forest department, Nagpur.
“The leopard had been moving dangerously close to residential areas within Aarey and this posed a threat of man-animal conflict,” said Santosh Kank, range forest office, Mumbai. “We had no option but to set the cage for the security of the Aarey tribals.”
The leopard was trapped around 6pm from Aarey and kept in the trap cage for more than two hours and then transferred to Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), Borivli. “We will be keeping the leopard at an isolated location in the park. A medical test will be conducted the animal will be released into the wild thereafter,” said Anwar Ahmed, chief conservator of forest, SGNP.
Meanwhile, members of the tribal settlement at Aarey denied that they had complained to the forest department. “We treat leopards like family members and no big cat has attacked us in years. The forest department asked us for information and we told them that the leopard had been frequenting the area. However, we did not want it to be trapped,” said Prakash Bhoir, Aarey resident and leader of the tribal groups. “Some slums have cropped up in Aarey and they complained to the department.”
Wildlife activists said that the move was strange and sudden. “There is some serious disconnect on the forest department’s end. If a conflict has to happen, there is nothing anyone can do,” said Vidya Athreya, wildlife biologist. “If there has not been a serious case or even an animal death in the area, there is no reason why the big cat should be moved away from its habitat.”
“It has been over three years, there has been no attack. A mere sighting does not mean that the leopard is a threat. Aarey has been a leopard habitat for a long time,” said Krishna Tiwari, founder, forest and wildlife conservation society. “There needs to be an immediate investigation into the matter, else we will lose our natural wildlife this way.”
Forest officials added that the municipal corporation had not been clearing the trash from near the tribal settlements, which was attracting leopards to find easy prey. “We cannot wait for a conflict to occur and act after it. We are following a mandate where we are protecting humans by trapping this leopard some untoward happen,” said KP Singh, chief conservator of forest, Thane.
Living with leopards
A study undertaken by Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) from December 2014 to April 2015, found 35 free-roaming leopards across 140 square km, including areas outside SGNP, the Nagla forest block across the Vasai Creek and the Aarey Milk Colony.
Nikit Surve, a student of WII who conducted the study, said he had spotted three leopards, two females and one male, in and around Aarey Colony. “The leopards have their home ranges inside Aarey colony. We had got images of civets and jungle cats and many bird species and snakes.”
In another study conducted by leopard expert Krishna Tiwari in 2013, four leopards — two males, one female and one of unidentified sex — were found within Aarey Colony. Both the studies were conducted by using camera traps.
List of guidelines to avoid conflict
- Be alert after dark (when leopards are active). Put on music on the mobile phone so that the big cat knows that you are human being, which it goes out its way to avoid.
- Do not move about alone after dark.
- If a leopard is sighted, give it way and allow it to move peacefully. - Mere sightings of leopards do not translate into danger.
- Do not form a crowd around the animal.
- Ensure that the garbage is disposed and no feral dogs are present in the locality.
(Source: Sanjay Gandhi National Park)