Updated: March 25, 2021 12:57:33 am
THE TRAIL used by six-year-old Maharaja, one of two leopards fitted with a radio collar, from Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) to Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary that passes through a road and railway track is the latest evidence on the big cat’s movement and the route used between the two protected areas.
To better understand the leopard in an urban landscape and its interaction with humans, SGNP authorities initiated a project to study leopards by using radio collars. Under the two-year project, Maharaja (from the northern part of the park) and two-and-a-half-year-old female Savitri (found in the southern part and close to human habitats), were fitted with radio collars last month. Until now, SGNP, which has a documented leopard population of 47, studied the animal only through camera trappings. While camera trappings are useful for the animal count, it could not help researchers in understanding the animal’s movement within and outside the park.
The male leopard, which was earlier sighted in the northern part of the park (Nagla block) and surrounded by big roads, was fitted with a collar on February 22. In the last one month, it has traversed the park to Tungareshwar thrice. The leopard crossed Chinchoti-Bhiwandi Road from the same spot each time, while it picked different locations to cross to Tungareshwar through the existing railway track, shows the initial study.
In 2009, leopards from Ahmednagar division were also fitted with radio collars and one of them, Ajooba, was observed to have walked 125 km from Malshej Ghats to SGNP. Ajooba, however, entered the park through Vasai creek. Maharaja has also been observed to track till the creek, but has not yet crossed it to travel to the sanctuary.
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Maharaja walked close to 62 km in six days, where it covered 8 km during the day (7 am to 7 pm) and 54 km at night (7 pm to 7 am). During its first visit to Tungareshwar, the leopard stayed in the sanctuary for seven days and walked up to the highest point. On its second trip, the leopard crossed over to the sanctuary and returned to SGNP within half an hour.
Researchers also found pug marks of another female leopard with Maharaja’s. However, the researcher from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) working on the project will require more data spread over the coming months to establish if the female leopard is also moving along with Maharaja.
Incidentally, the corridor chosen by Maharaja will witness four major infrastructure projects in areas bordering SGNP and Tungareshwar sanctuary — 10-lane Virar-Alibaug multimodal corridor, bullet train, Diva-Panvel rail line and Delhi-Mumbai Dedicated Freight Corridor.
At the same culvert, connecting forest land between the park and sanctuary, the proposed 1-km and 30-m wide “wildlife or animal overpass” also received a final nod from a sub-committee set up by State Wildlife Board on January 13 last year. It will be a straight overpass with 1 km of fencing, directly connecting SGNP and Tungareshwar. The proposal awaits approval from the State Wildlife Board.
Savitri, on the other hand, used SGNP and Thane territorial division areas. Both animals were observed to rest in the day and move during the night.
In the second phase, which is scheduled to begin at the end of this year, three more leopards (one male and two females) from the park will be fitted with radio collar. The second phase will provide more results like the home range of the leopards and their interaction with humans. The project involves GPS telemetry where radio collars that communicate via satellite are placed on leopards to monitor their movement.
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