Wildlife institute to head first leopard census at SGNP
Starting December, the density and numbers of leopards at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) will be surveyed by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in a first-of-its-kind project to estimate the exact population of the big cat in the urban forest.
The study, to be conducted across the 108-sq km expanse, will be carried out in phases. The first phase, which will begin by the end of the year, will involve installing the first batch of camera traps, to capture images of leopards.
The project is part of wildlife student Nikit Surve’s research. Surve will be mentored by senior scientists S Sathyakumar and K Shankar, who have previously worked with radio-collar leopards at the Sariska Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan.
“We are awaiting the final research proposal from WII, following which the camera traps will be laid. Currently, we have 30 high-end camera traps to use during the study,” said Vikas Gupta, director, SGNP.
Sathyakumar said according to initial plans, the study will be six-month-long project, but may be extended till December 2015.
According to the WII’s project plan, the park will be divided into grids — each measuring 4 sq km —and one camera trap will be set up in each grid. The capture and re-capture methodology, used during the annual nationwide tiger census, will be used in the exercise.
“In each grid, one camera trap will be installed on either side of the road, for a maximum of 45 days. After a fortnight’s gap, the cameras will be installed again for a month. This helps us determine the number of leopards in a specific area,” said Sathyakumar. As each leopard has a unique rosette or coat pattern, the images will help distinguish one animal from another.
Experts said such a study would help manage the man-animal conflict in the forest. “A leopard density study has never been conducted before, and will give a fair idea to wildlife conservationists and citizens about the number of leopards in the park,” said Vidya Athreya, a biologist who had headed the Mumbaikars for SGNP project in the past.