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State backtracks on 2015 claim, says there are no striped hyenas in Mumbai’s National Park

On December 20, NGO Vanashakti will tell court that no official census was ever conducted to ascertain the presence of the animal

mumbai Updated: Dec 16, 2017 13:31 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
mumbai,wildlife,sanjay gandhi national park
Sanjay Gandhi National Park’s official website lists the striped hyena in its ‘faunal’ section. (Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

Two years after the state, in its affidavit to the Bombay high court (HC), claimed that the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), Borivli, was home to striped hyenas, the forest department has refuted its own claim. Chief conservator of forest (CCF), SGNP, Anwar Ahmed, said that there were no striped hyenas in the park. This stands in direct contradiction to a claim made on SGNP’s official website, which lists the striped hyena in its ‘faunal’ section.

The Bombay high court will hear the matter on December 20, when NGO Vanashakti intends to go on record to say that no official census was ever conducted to ascertain the presence of striped hyenas.

In 2014, a petition was filed by Vanashakti seeking directions to demarcate ‘critical wildlife areas’ inside forests and sanctuaries, to prevent extinction of endangered species. “An example of this can be seen at SGNP, where the striped hyena and civet have gone extinct,” reads the petition.

In 2015, an affidavit countering the NGO’s claim was filed by Anwar Ahmad, then conservator of forest, wildlife, Thane. “It is denied that the striped hyena and civet cat have gone extinct. These species are very much present in SGNP,” the affidavit stated.

However, on Friday, Ahmed said, “While civet cats are definitely present in the park, we do not have any striped hyenas. We will have to check our previous records to ascertain whether the animal had been ever identified in the park.”

Stalin D, director, Vanashakti, said, “SGNP officials are more interested in clearing proposals for various projects rather than conserving wildlife. Over the years, there have been several encroachments in the park, and the park boundary itself is undefined.”

Meanwhile, wildlife experts and other forest department officials have also stated that there has never been evidence of even a small striped hyena population at the park. Mayur Kamath, wildlife warden, Mumbai, said, “In 2004, a striped hyena was rescued from a quarry in Palghar district and brought to SGNP. Nobody knows what happened to the animal since.”

Sunil Limaye, additional principal chief conservator of forest, Nagpur and former CCF, SGNP said, “Hyenas are commonly found in open spaces, such as grasslands and ranches, since they are scavengers. SGNP does not provide the suitable habitat for the species, as opposed to some locations in Pune or Satara. It might have been an oversight that this claim was made on the website and in the affidavit.”

Nikit Surve, researcher from the Wildlife Conservation Society India, said, “it is possible that the species became locally extinct a long time ago. Unlike leopards, who are more adaptable than most species, the hyenas could have died out due to ecological changes over the years.”

Surve had conducted a camera trap study in 2015 in SGNP to estimate the faunal population in SGNP, during which 6 to 8 camera trap images provided the evidence for a existent civet population.

First Published: Dec 16, 2017 13:30 IST