Authorities at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park have embarked on a drive to restore meadows, whose depletion had severely impacted the park’s food chain. The disturbance of the park’s food chain is being cited as one of the reasons for animals to leave the confines of the Borivli-based park and stray into the city in search of food. According to officials, the amount of non-fodder grass in SGNP has risen to 40%, which is seriously affecting herbivores.
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An official pointed out that though there is no exact count of herbivores at the national park, the sizes of the herds have considerably reduced over the past decade.
Grassland ecologists have also been roped in to study the grass cover. They said the grasslands in SGNP, which should be at 6 per cent, is currently at 2.4 per cent and the national park is mainly covered with woodlands.
“Bare grass is largely found in the national park and this is an indicator of climate change and acidic soil. Enumeration and identification of the grass in the SGNP is underway. We are dividing it into two categories, fodder and non-fodder. Currently there is more than 40% of non-fodder grass in SGNP. “
“This directly affects the food web and the food chain there,” said G D Muratkar, a grass ecologist.
Grass is being restored near Tulsi and Virar lakes.
The restoration includes two phases, one, of collecting the grass seeds and two, of trimming down meadows into stripes of short and tall grass. Herbivores in SGNP require grass that is softer and leaves that can retain more moisture.
“Browsing and grazing of the grass depends on species of the herbivore.The Sambar feeds on one foot tall grass but the Bison needs at least three feet tall grass,” said a forest official.
SGNP officials call these operations as “grasses for leopards” as they believe leopards stray out onto to the streets of Mumbai and Thane in seach for food as their prey has reduced in the forest. There are at least 35 leopards in SGNP.
“We intend to improve conditions of Sanjay Gandhi National Park and this operation will have long term effects on improving bio-diversity,” said Anwar Ahmed, SGNP director.
A senior forest official pointed out that over the past decade, proliferation of invasive weed such as Lantana camara and Eupatorium perfoliatum is responsible for the forest’s degradation.
These species spread aggressively in the forests, resulting in a stifling of indigenous tree and plant species and reducing the size of meadows. This weed will now be pulled out three times a year, in the months of July, September, December.