Forests in and around Mumbai are home to 41 leopards: Survey | Hindustan Times
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Forests in and around Mumbai are home to 41 leopards: Survey

The survey was conducted twice between April and June, during which the 140 sq km area was divided into two blocks

mumbai Updated: Feb 06, 2018 16:42 IST
Badri Chatterjee
The 49 camera traps captured 235 leopard images between April and June
The 49 camera traps captured 235 leopard images between April and June

A survey of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivli, and its surrounding forest areas has confirmed the presence of 41 leopards. Camera traps were used to document wildlife during the survey, wherein 27 leopards were photographed for the first time. The researchers surveyed 140 sq km . The survey report ‘Monitoring density and movement of leopards within Sanjay Gandhi National Park and along its periphery’ was released at the SGNP, Borivli, on Tuesday.

Of the 35 leopards recorded during the 2015 survey, only 14 big cats matched the new database. Similarly, only six leopards matched the new database after it was compared with the 2011 survey. The researchers said an in-depth study was the need of the hour.

“Leopards are elusive animals. From SGNP onwards, there exists a well-established corridor and these leopards have access to 10,000 sq km till Tansa and Malshej Ghat. The example of this can be seen from the famous leopard Ajoba, which travelled from Malshej Ghat to Ghodbunder. A thorough monitoring of this landscape is being planned as well as continuous monitoring of species in SGNP to understand them better. We can confirm that not a single case of poaching was reported from the park in 2017,” said Anwar Ahmed, chief conservator of forest, SGNP, who jointly released the report.

The number of camera traps used this year was more than previous years, as the researchers surveyed SGNP and peripheral areas of Aarey Milk Colony, IIT-Powai, Ghodbunder village, Nagla block. The survey was conducted between April and June, during which the 140 sq km area was divided into two blocks. While 24 camera traps were installed in block 1, block 2 had 25 camera traps. The cameras were set to operate for 22 days in both the blocks from 5pm to 7am. The 49 camera traps captured 235 leopard images. The survey also identified seven dead leopards and seven cubs.

Other animals documented during the survey include small Indian civet.

The survey by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) – India and forest department confirmed the presence of 15 males, 23 females and 3 individuals, whose sex remains unknown. Other wild animals documented during the survey were jungle cat, rusty spotted cat, bonnet macaque, rhesus macaque, common langur, sambar deer, spotted deer, barking deer, small Indian civet, palm civet and common mongoose.

“Although the number of leopards has increased in 2017 when compared to 2015, the increase is not significant. The 21 leopards from the 2015 database which could not be photo-captured could be owing to natural or accidental deaths or their movement outside SGNP of which we currently have poor knowledge,” reads the summary report of the study. It adds: “Continuous monitoring of leopards across the entire landscape using camera-trapping as a tool will help us understand their population dynamics in a better manner.”

Nikit Surve, wildlife biologist, WCS India, who conducted the study, said a research in Washington, US, on mountain lions revealed other mountain lions would occupy the territory of the one removed from a particular area, a similar phenomenon was observed in SGNP.

A black-napd hare.

“This study has thrown up some interesting results and produced more questions than answers. It shows us how little we understand these animals,” he said, adding, “Old animals from 2015 were not photographed and new individuals had taken over the same territory. The territory doesn’t remain vacant, it’s occupied quickly.”

A senior SGNP official said leopards from SGNP move from one location to another in search of a favourable prey base. “Several big cats have moved out of their original territory in the past two years. The young leopards who have taken over these vacated territories could have been cubs during the previous studies. While the rest of missing leopards may have died naturally,” the official said.

Surve said leopards were photographed carrying fowl, ducks or dogs, using same narrow lanes or forest trails used by humans on several occasions. “It was also seen that female leopards did not confine themselves to one mate or one territory. A few images revealed that one female was mating with two separate leopards at their respective dens.”

Expertspeak

“It seems that a lot of new animals have been identified, and the old ones have not been spotted during the camera-trap exercise. Considering the high leopard density in the area, we really do not know the exact reasons for the changing population and a much larger study over significant time-frame needs to be done to understand this,” said Vidya Athreya, wildlife biologist.

“SGNP does not have a corridor to adjoining forests so the reason highlighting such animals moving out of the park might not be true. However, based on past studies we have seen that animals’ population keeps changing. In this case, most likely, cubs documented in the previous surveys have grown up and could be the reason for this increase in leopard population. Also, the older ones may have died a natural death,” said Nitin Desai, director, central India, Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI).