Leopards seem to be up for grabs in Maharashtra, at least 45 of them. And at least four organisations have sought Central Zoo Authority’s permission to start safaris.
The Authority is debating how many proposals to sanction.
“We have received quite a few requests from various agencies — city-based corporates and NGOs — asking for permission to start leopard safaris. We have taken a decision in-principle but cannot reveal it at the moment,” Central Zoo Authority’s member-secretary B.R. Sharma told the Hindustan Times from Delhi.
“We know Maharashtra is facing a crisis and we considered all the proposals while taking a decision, which will be announced in some time,” he said.
But the state forest department will surely not complain. Not only has it run out of space to keep the big cats, it is also financially burdened with their upkeep.
“We ourselves have applied for a rescue centre at Borivli as we are stretching out capacity. We will have a major problem if there are further leopard attacks in the coming months,” said Bimal Majumdar, state principal chief conservator of forests.
The state spends about Rs 20,000 per leopard per month on food and medication. There is no special budget to feed caged leopards, all strays were caught after they attacked humans.
Starting safaris isn’t easy. After the zoo authority’s approval, the agencies concerned need to apply to Supreme Court for permission.
Leopards are housed in Borivli’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Navegaon National Park in Gondia — about 550 km from Mumbai — and Manikdo Rescue Centre at Junnar near Pune.
It is now difficult to release them in the wild. Some have spent up to seven years in captivity and may have lost their hunting abilities.
“Releasing them at the place of capture will lead to disaster as these there is no space for the older ones,” said Majumdar. “Younger cats have already filled the area as leopards are fast breeders.”
If the Supreme Court allows, the state can have at least three leopard safaris. Watch this space.