The exact number of leopards at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) will soon be clear.
The SGNP authorities are finalising plans for a comprehensive leopard population and density estimation exercise.
In 2011-13, the limited areas of the park were covered to arrive at an estimate of leopard population as part of the Mumbaikars for SGNP project. The count then was 21.
Unlike the previous counting, the new exercise plans to cover the entire park and the adjacent Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary too.
The park authorities are zeroing in on camera trapping methodology for the census project.
“We are fine-tuning certain key issues to arrive at a framework for the population estimation. This will include roping in independent wildlife researchers, identifying areas for camera trapping and budgeting and choosing volunteers for the project. We are aiming to start the actual ground work by November,” said Vikas Gupta, director and chief conservator of forests, SGNP.
Earlier, the census plan was put off as authorities felt that monsoon would not allow clear camera trap images of leopards.
According to sources, the park is in talks with Wildlife Institute of India to chalk out a collaboration on the estimation exercise.
In the camera-trapping exercise, digital camera traps that use motion sensor and infrared are set on either side of the road to capture either side of the leopard. This way it is easier to distinguish one leopard from another based on their rosettes or coat pattern.
In May, renowned wildlife photographer Steve Winter, a veteran with the National Geographic magazine, conducted a workshop for SGNP staffers to train them in using camera traps for estimating leopard population.
Since the park has a concentrated population of leopards in 104 square kilometres of area, the duration of trapping exercises will be short to avoid duplication of leopard images in different areas.
“Since prey is easily available on the fringes of the park, the leopards at SGNP have adapted to smaller territories. Conducting the exercise in a short period can eliminate duplication of images, where one leopard is captured in two different areas,” said Vidya Athreya, wildlife biologist, Wildlife Conservation Society.
Spotting the animal
* Between 2011 and 2013, the ‘Mumbaikars for Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP)’ project installed camera traps in areas where leopard were frequently sighted.
* After sifting through 148 images, 21 leopards were identified. The park authorities termed this as a rough estimate of the leopard population as the entire park was not covered
* Based on the estimate, it was concluded that one leopard occupies an area of around 4 square kilometres
* Since the boundaries of SGNP are porous, researchers say that leopards migrating from neighbouring reserve forests may also be entering the park regularly.
* There has not yet been a comprehensive population estimation at SGNP and Tungareshwar wildlife sanctuary