The increase in animal-man conflict and the existence of a single trained rescue team for all of Mumbai and Thane have come under sharp criticism from wildlife experts.
Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) has only one trained six-member team to rescue wild cats straying into residential colonies. Besides the park, its jurisdiction includes the sanctuaries of Tungareshwar and Tansa.
“We need more rescue teams. What will happen when there are two simultaneous cases of leopards needing to be rescued in different parts of the city? Where will the rescue team head?” asked Goldin Quadros, interim state director, World Wide Fund for Nature. On an average, there has been one incident every month this year of leopards straying into in human settlements.
Environmentalists pointed out the lack of basic facilities, such as an ambulance or stretcher. “When an injured leopard was caught at Bhandup recently, there was no ambulance to carry it back. The rescuers asked villagers for bedsheets or gunny sacks to take the animal away,” said Sunish Subramanian, founder, Plants and Animal Welfare Society. “When the animal is already traumatised by all that has happened, is that how you treat it?”
Last month, the Ministry of Environment And Forests released guidelines on how to manage the man-leopard conflict. It stated the need for a primary response team comprising local community members and trained to handle the situation till the emergency response team reaches the spot.
The guidelines mention the use of technology to deal with the conflict. There is advice on cages for the captured animals and how to deal with a leopard that has fallen into a well or strayed into a house.
The guidelines on better cages and incorporation of scientific methods are important because rescued leopards land up in small “squeeze” cages and those not fit for release languish there.
“The team doesn’t have dart guns to protect itself in case the leopard attacks it. For instance, in the rescue at Uran earlier this month, the veterinary doctor sustained minor injuries when the leopard tried to attack her,” said Krishna Tiwari, city forest officer, Bombay Natural History Society.
Tiwari added that before releasing a trapped leopard, it should be collared with a microchip to track its behaviour and attack pattern. “There is no short-term solution available. We need to identify areas most prone to this conflict, form primary response teams and start training them,” said Tiwari.