Radio collars for leopards in Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Radio collars for leopards in Mumbai’s Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Radio collar is a device that helps detect and understand an animal’s movement

mumbai Updated: May 26, 2018 13:33 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Since February this year, 27 leopards have been photographed in Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Since February this year, 27 leopards have been photographed in Sanjay Gandhi National Park.(WCS India)

Leopards in and around Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) will be radio collared as part of a study to understand their movement across the forest and its environs. This is the first time such a project has been planned in a forest close to a large metropolitan area .

How radio collaring works
  • According to Vidya Athreya, wildlife biologist, WCS-India, who will be leading the study, the collars work by sending a signal to a satellite, which obtains the time and date of the signal sent from the collar and this information is transmitted back to the researchers who can go and investigate where the animal is and what it is doing. “The study will provide information on urban carnivores, which is routinely carried out in countries like US where mountain lions and bears are radio collared. However, this will be a first for any urban landscape in India,” she said

Park authorities signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Wildlife Conservation Society – India (WCS) on Friday to initiate a two year long project to fit radio collars - a device that helps detect and understand an animal’s movement - on the park’s resident leopards.

HT had reported on February 7 that SGNP officials have decided to fix radio-collars on three free-roaming leopards, both inside and outside the park premises. After Friday’s MoU confirmed the development, SGNP officials said at least three leopards will be radio collared while WCS-India members said they have received permission to collar five leopards from the state forest head office at Nagpur.

Currently, no leopard in and around SGNP have been radio-collared so far. In February this year, SGNP officers and Nikit Surve, wildlife biologist from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India released the survey report that confirmed the presence of 41 leopards in and around SGNP with 27 photographed for the first time across 140 sq km area.

“This will be a first-of-its-kind project across India with an aim to understand how leopards use the landscape in and around the park. While work has been done for tigers through similar projects, it has never happened for leopards. We are extremely optimistic about the two year study but we will also be releasing preliminary reports as and when the study progresses,” said Anwar Ahmed, director and chief conservator of forest, SGNP.

“While we have received permission to collar five leopards, we will be collaring them based on feasibility. As of now three developments are needed before the study begins – funding from the Maharashtra forest department, permission from the central government to carry out the exercise since the animal is a Schedule 1 species, and permission from the Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications, for the wire frequency,” said Vidya Athreya, wildlife biologist, WCS-India. “The process has just begun.”

CASE STUDY

Leopards on the move
  • On May 13, forest officers rescued a five-year-old male leopard from the Maharashtra state reserve police force (SRPF) camp in Aarey Colony, Goregaon.
  • March 18: A 4-year-old leopard accidentally entered a bungalow at Bhatia Chowk in Ulhasnagar while the owner and his family were at home. While man-animal conflict did not take place, the leopard was rescued by a team of forest officials and local police within four hours.
  • On January 13, a male leopard strayed into a residential society in Mulund (East) in Mumbai and attacked five people. A four-hour rescue operation and crowd control by the forest department saw the animal tranqulised and rushed to safety.
  • On December 10 last year, a similar incident was reported from a society in Andheri (East) where a 12-hour rescue operation ensured the animal was rescued and untoward situations avoided.

In 2009, leopards from Ahmednagar division were collared and one of them, Ajoba (see image), walked 125 km from Malshej Ghats to Mumbai, highlighting that there exists a well-established corridor where leopards have access to 10,000 sq. km area from Mumbai Metropolitan Region all the way up till Tansa and Malshej Ghat.

Why you should care

Leopards are elusive species with highly secretive nature, and are very hard to observe. Camera trapping and collaring are two tools that allow wildlife researcher to understand the big cat. At SGNP, camera trapping activity has been going on for the last three years, and now radio collaring studies have been initiated.

During a 2017 study by WCS India, nine individual leopards were identified along peripheral areas of SGNP - Aarey Milk Colony (4), IIT-Powai (1), Film City (1), Ghodbunder village (1) and Nagla block (2).