TEN YEARS AGO, after a series of leopard attacks in the Aarey Milk Colony, the range forest officials started patrolling the area at night. The range forest office, located at Teen Haath Naka in Thane, is tasked with patrolling duty at night. An officer and three forest guards are deputed to patrol the areas most affected by man-animal conflicts, from 8 pm to 7 am daily.
“There are ten round officers. Every ten days, a rotational list is put by our superiors. As per the list we have to be present for night patrolling. The night patrolling officials are given a jeep to patrol the city and spread awareness ,” said Ravindra Tawar, a round forest officer. “Aarey Milk Colony is the most affected area. There are around 28 small villages, each comprising at least 25 households. We have to make sure that these people are safe, as we spend more than three hours inside the colony. We try to visit every village, hostel and the cowsheds in the colony,” added Tawar.
He said, “Usually we carry basic safety gear like jackets, helmets and a net. Depending on the complaint, we inform our Thane office, who are asked to send a cage in which the rescued animal is kept once tranquilised.” The range forest officials claim that they have put their complaint phone number ‘1926’ on display. Earlier, the forest officials claimed that they would get around ten calls during the night hours but now following awareness programmes, the calls have reduced to about three.
“Whenever we get a call, it is mandatory for the patrolling team to visit the spot. As after assembling in our Thane office at 8pm, we first visit Aarey Milk Colony and later if there is a complaint call then we go and visit the spot. Usually, we get calls for rescuing a bird or a snake,” said Vijay Jadhav another round forest officer.
As part of night patrolling, the forest officials have to spread awareness among the residents. “On spotting people sleeping on the roads near the border of Sanjay Gandhi National Park, we ask them to go and sleep in their houses, as usually leopards attack during the night hours,” said Tawar.
Aarey Milk Colony, Chotta Kashmir and Film City are the places the round forest officers have to visit during their night duty. “If we locate any individual walking in the dark near a forest area, we ask them to either play music on their mobile or have a flash light, so that they aren’t attacked by any animal,” said MG Bakkar, a round forest officer.