Rapid increase in leopard movement in Aarey Colony: Forest department
Over the past two weeks frequency of leopard sightings at Aarey Milk Colony in Goregaon has increased significantly, the Maharashtra forest department said. From an average of two a week, camera traps captured images of free roaming big cats daily during the past 16 days of the lockdown.
Sunil Limaye, additional principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), said, “We have observed a noticeable increase in leopard movement, especially during evening and night, on a daily basis during lockdown. This type of movement has not been observed before by any of the four camera traps in the area. Images of not only adults but quite a few cubs have also been observed from different units in Aarey.”
Limaye said the department along with a team of researchers spotted big cats at locations inside Aarey where they had not been seen before. “This indicates that these big cats are moving freely without any fear due to lack of human movement across roads or along hamlets. We cannot disclose the exact locations where the animals have been spotted for safety of those zones and their habitats, but these are all case studies of wildlife reclaiming their habitat,” said Limaye.
Sharing its boundary with Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), which is home to at least 47 leopards (according to wildlife biologist Nikit Surve and SGNP officials), the 16-sq km Aarey Colony has a resident population of six to seven leopards including cubs, as well as a transient population moving from SGNP.
The forest department shared latest images of the cats. “One of our researchers, Kunal Chaudhary, took a few photos apart from camera trap images of big cats moving along a boundary wall inside Aarey. He, too, has confirmed daily sightings,” said Limaye.
The department added that there was a spike in free movement of Sambar, Chital deer and a host of primates across SGNP as well. Citing that the numbers are unprecedented, Limaye said, “Similar observations have been recorded in Karnala and Tansa.”
Meanwhile, captive big cats in SGNP’s safari section, which were being fed chicken during the first week of the lockdown, will be given frozen buffalo meat as Deonar abattoir has agreed to supply the meat for the next two months from April 4 onwards. The meat was originally meant for export purposes, which has been put on hold due to the lockdown.