Animal enclosures at Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivli will be revamped with the setting up of modified cages, officials from the forest department said.
SGNP officials told HT that the move was aimed at improving medical treatment for leopards at the park’s rescue centre, and the same will be introduced for the tigers and lions at their respective safari enclosures later next year.
Over the next 15 days, a cage at the leopard rescue centre,home to 15 leopards — eight females and seven males — will be refurbished. Currently, the leopard enclosure at the park has eight cages in three buildings, spread across one-and-half acre and a cage each for tigers and lions in two different buildings. Separately, the park has a mobile cage for medical treatment of an animal during transfer from one location to another.
“We have been facing the problem of not being able to adequately treat the leopards in the current squeeze cages, as they are only open to the veterinarian from one side and since the animal is immobilized, it is difficult to treat the exact area of the wound,” said Anwar Ahmed, chief conservator of forest, SGNP. “The new cages will give our medical team access from all sides, which will help provide them better medication, identify diseases and treat it much faster.”
He added that it would be an in-house construction and will provide more space for the movement of leopards. “The idea is to improve the existing facilities, protect and increase the lifespan of all big cats in SGNP,” said Ahmed.
The blue print of the new cage, which will be slightly larger than the existing 20x30-metre enclosures, has been drafted by the SGNP officials.
“It will be first introduced in the three buildings at the leopard rescue centre, located at the eastern end of the park. Based on the feasibility, the same design will be introduced for the tiger and leopard enclosure in the buildings within the safari area,” said Shailesh Deore, range forest officer, SGNP and brainchild behind the project.
There are seven captive tigers at the national park, four females, two males and one albino tiger, and three lions, two males and one female, all located in the park’s safari area.
HT had reported in May that the forest department had devised measures to keep captive leopards fit and their efforts bore fruit with no casualties and their weight was in check. The cats were provided with medicine balls to keep them fit and were fed medicinal plants for improved health.
Deore added that while the previous additions will be made to these cages, among the new facilities, a weighing scale will be installed at the bottom of the cage, which will provide the animal’s exact weight once it steps on it. Fifteen-foot-long wooden parallel bars will be constructed for the animals to improve their balance and can be used as resting areas by the big cats.
“We will be using material from old cages that is in good condition to revamp the new cages,” said Deore, adding, “Routine checkups will be much easier from now on.”
Additionally, shrubs, palatable grasses and medicinal plants such as lemongrass, spear grass, basil, dhub, bhama, durva and bermuda grasses will be planted within the enclosures for helping leopards with their digestion.
“The forest department is taking active steps to protect the lives of the captive big cats. While majority of the animals are already quite old, steps such as will provide better mobility, medical management and will automatically help increase their lifespan by a few more years,” said Krishna Tiwari, founder, forest and wildlife conservation society.
Veterinarian Shailesh Pethe pointed out that leopards generally go through a lot of emotional distress when in captivity and sometimes it leads to some amount self-mutilation.
“Our idea was to change the dreary circumstance where leopards were living in small jail cells to a much more animal-friendly environment. There has not been a single death in the past one year and neither any case of serious diseases. We have been spraying water on their body twice a day and their drinking water is changed every three hours,” he said.