Is Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) home to striped hyenas? This question is emerging as a bone of contention between the wildlife wing of the forest department and public interest litigation (PIL) heard by the Bombay high court (HC).
The petition filed by a non-government organisation (NGO) Vanashakti has sought directions to demarcate critical wildlife areas inside forests and sanctuaries to protect species from going extinct or vanishing from national parks.
Citing the example of the Great Indian Bustard that is critically endangered, the petition has stated that animals inside sanctuaries are also in danger.
“An example of the same can be seen at Sanjay Gandhi National Park where the striped hyena and civet cat have gone extinct,” read the petition.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the striped hyena as ‘near threatened’ that moves around alone, in pairs or even as a pack of seven, and capable of killing prey up to the size of a donkey.
The affidavit filed by conservator of forest, wildlife Thane, Anwar Ahmad, however, refuted the claim.
“It is denied that the striped hyena and civet cat have gone extinct. These species are very much present in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and many other sanctuaries and national parks of Maharashtra State,” states the affidavit.
Even as the affidavit rejects the absence of the carnivore, figures from the animal census from 2006 to 2011 showed no sighting of the striped hyena at both SGNP and Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.
While civet cats were recorded at SGNP – one in 2006, three in 2007, three in 2008, four in 2009 and none in 2011, there were no sightings at Tungareshwar.
Even members of the ‘Mumbaikars for SGNP’ project that installed camera traps to monitor leopard movements for six months did not spot the striped hyena.
“This is a case similar to Sariska (tiger reserve in Rajasthan) where the forest department kept saying there were tigers in the park and when confronted and asked to prove its existence, confessed that all had vanished,” said Stalin D, project director, Vanashakti.