Wildlife experts and forest department officials have found that Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and surrounding areas have good leopard density and despite the presence of big cats on the periphery,the last verified human death due to an attack occurred in 2006.
The findings are part of the research conducted from September to November 2011 as part of the parks Mumbaikars for SGNP project,being jointly carried out by the forest department and experts from the Centre of Wildlife Studies(CWS),Bangalore. The year-long project aims to assess and assist leopard conservation and mitigate man-animal conflict in and around the park.
Twenty camera traps were installed at 10 different locations in and around the park as part of the project. Preliminary figures suggest there are a minimum of five adult leopards just in Aarey Colony and the southern parts of the park. That is a very good population density for an area of about 100 sq km. However,we still have a lot of area to cover, said Vidya Athreya,principal investigator for the project and a scientist with CWS. More camera traps will be put in January and February.
The team also mapped past incidents of man-animal conflicts in and around the park and found that no verified human death had occurred due to leopard attacks since 2006. Even though leopards exist on the periphery of the park,there have been no human casualties due to attacks since 2006. This is important as it allows us to give people the confidence that the animals will not harm them, said Athreya.
Efforts to engage locals from areas which commonly report leopard sightings,such as the IIT campus,Aarey Colony,State Reserve Police Force (SRPF) office,and explaining them safety measures have yielded results. People are not scared anymore and know the protocol to follow when they see a leopard, said Sunil Limaye,director of the park. Also,since leopards are known to prey on dogs,which in turn feast on garbage and waste,we have told people to keep their areas clean and hygienic. In fact,the SRPF office,which recorded frequent leopard sightings,took our advice to install a compost pit to dispose of the waste. This has stopped the leopard from venturing there, he added.
The project,which commenced in September 2011 and will end in August 2012,will soon initiate interviews with stakeholders,such as park residents,morning workers and students,and undertake scat (feaces) collection for better understanding of the animal and its biology. After the collection and collation of information,awareness programmes will be conducted and citizens will also be involved. The aim is bring together different authorities such as the police and Fire Brigade,the forest department,local bodies and the citizens together,with each playing a role in mitigating the man-animal conflict and conserving the leopard, Limaye said.