Mumbai naturalist has photos of hyenas inside Borivli national park
Sunjoy Monga says he took the pictures in the mid 80s
Although forest officials claimed that striped hyenas were never found in Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), photos taken by ornithologist and writer Sunjoy Monga reveal that the park had the ‘near threatened’ species till the early 90s.
Monga said he recorded the presence of hyenas on several occasions inside SGNP. And in his last documentation, he saw a dead hyena on the edge of the national park in the late 80s (see pic).
“The picture was taken sometime in 1986, right after the monsoon, on Film City grounds. You can see the under-construction Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR) campus in the background” he said. “Two hyenas were lying dead, both shot in the head using a big gun. The people were reluctant to move the bodies as they believed it would bring them bad luck.”
Monga added he could not get through to anyone at the SGNP office and finally found a guard at the nearby forest check post who managed to get some help after which the carcasses were buried.
“I will never forget that incident because that was, to me, literally the last of the hyenas in Mumbai. There have been references to hyenas in historical times, especially in the gazetteer, which also had referred to prize money for shooting the animal that would sometimes be classified as a vermin.”
A petition filed by the NGO Vanashakti in the Bombay high court sought directions to demarcate critical wildlife areas inside forests and sanctuaries to protect species from going extinct or vanishing from national parks. The petition was filed in 2014.
“An example of the same can be seen at SGNP where the striped hyena and civet have gone extinct,” reads the petition.
Replying to the petition in 2015, SGNP authorities hyenas were present in the park. However, they retracted it last month citing lack of official records, which the HT reported in December, 2016.
The NGO will submit Monga’s photos as an affidavit in the court during the next hearing on February 6.
“It is shocking that such an important species [hyena] went missing and the forest department did not take any action to prevent this loss. It also reflects the priorities of the forest department,” said Stalin D, director, NGO Vanashakti.
Officials from SGNP said they need to check previous records.
“Civets are there in the park, but same can’t be said about the hyenas. A large volume of our documents were destroyed during last monsoon after the SGNP main office was flooded. Though we are trying to salvage them, we can confirm that no sightings of striped hyenas have been reported in the past five years,” said Anwar Ahmed, chief conservator of forest, SGNP.
Wildlife researchers said Monga’s documentation confirms that the animal was locally extinct due to its ecological behaviour and changing habitat.
“We had animals in the park that have become locally extinct over time as development increased around SGNP. With several other development projects coming up, the habitats of a number of endangered animals such as rusty spotted cat and mouse deer needs protection,” said Nikit Surve, wildlife biologist from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), India, who is studying leopards in Mumbai.