Three leopards — two cubs and one female — out of the five caught from Nashik and kept in captivity at Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) are set to be released, said the state forest department. To address the man-animal conflict in Nashik, the department had started capturing leopards from Nashik farmlands since July 2. Five of the trapped leopards were sent to SGNP rescue centre.
According to a report from the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, an adult male leopard was responsible for a string of attacks. The report was based on swab samples of four of the five victims. Following the report, a release plan was prepared for the trapped cubs and female leopard. The plan includes, a study of the area where the leopards can be released among others. Wildlife activists raised concerns over keeping the leopards in captivity for long, as they get adapted to captivity very fast.
The forest department agreed that capturing these big cats is not a final solution. The department had assured that the animals in captivity have least human imprint. The leopards kept in SGNP came in close proximity to humans twice a day. Once, when their cages are cleaned and then when they are fed. This is done to reduce human-imprint as much as possible. If a human touch leaves an imprint on the wild cat, it cannot be released in the wild.
Since July 2, a total of 13 leopards have been captured from a 12-km stretch along Darna river in Nashik. A total of five deaths and three serious injuries have been reported from suspected leopard attacks since December 2019. The conflict was witnessed across 25 villages.
Vivek Bhadane, range forest officer (RFO), Nashik said, “The release plan for the leopards has been approved. Thus, the three leopards from SGNP will be released in the wild. Farmlands are providing shelter to these big cats and their presence in the area is not new. However, the continuous attacks have raised safety concern among villagers.”
Five of the 13 leopards trapped so far were sent to SGNPs rescue centre in Mumbai. The SGNP rescue centre currently has 18 leopards. However, as the rescue centre’s capacity is full, the rest of the captured leopards have been kept in the forest nursery in Nashik.
The forest department is planning to set up a primary response team, which will include locals who will coordinate and alert the forest guard if they spot a leopard or in case of attack.
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