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SGNP leopards to get radio collars

Currently, no leopard in the park is radio-collared. Officials said it will take at least four months for the process to start.

mumbai Updated: Feb 07, 2018 01:25 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Mumbai leopards,SGNp
Currently, no leopard in the park is radio-collared. Officials said it will take at least four months for the process to start. (NIKIT SURVE)

With the census revealing the presence of 41 leopards in and around Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), but failing to explain why 21 animals recorded during the 2015 camera-trap study were missing this time, park officials have decided to fix radio collars on three leopards to study their movement.

Currently, no leopard in the park is radio-collared. Officials said it will take at least four months for the process to start. “The proposal is being made. We have reached out to researchers from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun to help us fix the radio-collars. Once this is done, we will have a comprehensive idea of the movement of these animals within the park and along the fringes,” said Anwar Ahmed, chief conservator of forest (CCF), SGNP.

On Tuesday, Ahmed and Nikit Surve, wildlife biologist from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), India, released the survey report that confirmed that 27 leopards were photographed for the first time. Around Rs5 lakh was spent on the study.

“While some leopard images might not have been caught during the study, we can confirm that the prey base of the big cat is increasing, its population is increasing, and there is enough security within the park to protect them,” said Anwar, denying threats from encroachments, poachers or illicit alcohol brewing units. “The camera trap study will be a continuous exercise from this year. We are mulling over making it an annual exercise to monitor leopards more closely and decipher their exact population.”

Surve said that between 2015 and 2017, seven leopard deaths were reported in the park and the latest study identified seven cubs. He also said nine individual leopards were identified in areas around SGNP -- Aarey Milk Colony (4), IIT-Powai (1), Film City (1), Ghodbunder village (1) and Nagla forest block across the Vasai creek (2). “There is a lot of food outside SGNP owing to accumulated garbage and the presence of stray dogs in residential areas. If both these factors are controlled, the leopard population will be limited to the park,” he said.

On January 13, a male leopard entered a residential society in Mulund (East) in Mumbai and attacked five people. While the injuries were minor, a four-hour rescue operation and crowd control by the forest department saw the animal getting tranquilised and rushed to safety. On December 10, a similar incident was reported from a society in Andheri (East), where a 12-hour rescue operation ensured the animal was safe.

Researchers who have studied SGNP over the past three decades said there was ambiguity in the animal census data. “There seems to be something wrong with this calculation if 21 animals are missing from the previous study. The possibility is that camera traps were positioned at locations where all animals have not been identified. We need to address the exact percentage of the prey base of these animals to understand their habitat,” said Sunjoy Monga, ornithologist and naturalist writer.

“According to our estimates, leopard population in SGNP is more than 50, and the exact number will be known if the study is conducted during different seasons. However, the large population raises an alarm about potential man-animal conflict situations similar to those witnessed over the past two months,” said Krishna Tiwari, founder, Forest and Wildlife Conservation Society.

Forest officers however said there was little to fear from leopards. “They have learnt to coexist with humans, and avoid conflict situations by staying away from people. Citizens need to follow the rules of SGNP and they will be safe,” said Sunil Limaye, former CCF, SGNP and assistant principal chief conservator of forest, Nagpur. “There is ample area beyond the SGNP landscape where animals constantly move. It is a typically dynamic situation and this is continuous. There is high territorial overlap as young animals take over territories over a short span of time.”

First Published: Feb 07, 2018 01:25 IST