A sudden flash and she glares in the direction of the camera. She struts past and returns and another flash goes off. And this goes on four days. L5, a female leopard at Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Borivali, is the leopard most frequently captured by cameras in Mumbai. She is among the 35 leopards in the 140 sq km area, including the national park and Aarey colony, a survey by the Wildlife Institute of India (WWI) and SGNP has revealed. Of these, 31 have been identified using their unique rosette patterns. These include 16 females and 10 males. The sex of five is not known.
The survey found that the leopard density at SGNP is 21 in a 100 sq km, which, the report said, was one of the highest density of leopards found anywhere. The study, ‘Ecology of leopard in SGNP, with special reference to its abundance, prey selection and food habits’, using camera trapping, was done by WWI’s Nikit Surve between December 2014 and April 2015.
Among wild animals, the highest density found was of common langur followed by bonnet macaque, chital and sambar. The animals were captured over 422 nights using camera traps, set only from 5 pm to 7 am to avoid theft and loss of data.
Breaking previously-held notions of leopards entering buildings along the periphery due to lack of prey inside the national park, the study showed wild prey contributed to 57 per cent of the leopards’ diet. However, dogs along the periphery of the park was still found to be the principal prey species for leopards at the national park. While dogs made up for 24.46 per cent of biomass from leopard scats, chitals and sambars found inside the national park makes 16.83 per cent and 15.59 per cent of the leopard’s diet. “The study proves that leopards do not enter perpheral buildings because there is a lack of wild prey in the forest, but mostly because these areas were their territories before and now, they find easy prey like dogs in these areas,” said Vikas Gupta, SGNP director.
The survey found at least 17 dogs per sq km in the park’s periphery. Maximum density of dogs (20 per sq km) was found at Aarey Milk Colony, followed by 16 per sq km at Kashimira and 14 per sq km at Yeoor. “Dogs continue to be the preferred diet as they are easy prey for the leopards, who would otherwise have to hunt down agile chitals and sambars inside the park,” said Surve.
While some were camera-friendly leopards like L5, there were leopards, who hit and pissed on the camera. But the study was not without its share of close encounters. On one occasion, while removing camera traps around 5 am, Surve and his team heard alarm calls of other wild animals. “We set up the camera and left immediately. Checking the footage later in the day revealed that a leopard walked the same path minutes after they had left the spot. During my study, there were many opportunities for leopards to attack me. Although I spotted a leopard only 3-4 times, I’m very confident that leopards spotted me at least a 100 times,” added Surve.
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