Leopards Losers in Man-Animal Conflict

Mumbai: The finding of a dead leopard at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) has conservationists worried about the declining numbers of the big cats in the area.

According to official statistics, the number of leopards in the park was down to 23 in 2009 from 47 in 1990. “It’s obviously worrying that every year a few leopards die in the park and that their population is now so low. Although nothing can be said for certain, as of now, about the cause of the latest death, the circumstances in which the predator met its end are suspicious,” said Sunish Subramanian, founder, Plant and Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), referring to reports that the leopard was missing its claws.

Conservationists say the biggest worry for the park is human encroachment. According to forest officials, more than 60,000 tenements have come up on SGNP land in areas like Malad and Kandivli. Some leopard deaths can be directly attributed to this problem. In November 2009, a leopard was run down by a drunk biker in Aarey Milk Colony, Goregaon (East). In 2008, three leopards were found dead in the early months in an around SGNP; forest officials maintained the deaths were natural. However, none of the three was more than five years old, though the average age of a leopard in the wild is around 15 years.

About the latest death, P N Munde, conservator and director, SGNP, said: “Every winter, one or two leopards die of natural causes like old age. According to the post-mortem report, the (latest) death was natural; we completely rule out any possibility of the leopard being killed.”

Environmentalists say patrolling in the park is the need of the hour. “Forest guards should have found the body of the leopard much before the locals (came across it on Sunday). The fact that the body was in a state of decay shows that there is need for patrolling by the field staff,” said Krishna Tiwari, project officer, city forests department, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).

But the forest department simply does not have enough staff. There are just 123 permanent and 87 temporary security personnel to guard the 103-sq km park against encroachments, poaching and fires.

Tiwari, who has been studying man-animal conflicts at the SGNP for seven years, said: “The decline in several species–as per the forest department’s estimates–is worrying. If the issues bedevilling the park are not resolved, they will continue to degrade the forest.”

Forest guards should have found the leopard’s body much before locals came across it on Sunday. That the body was decaying shows there is need for patrolling by field staff


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