Campaign launched across tribal hamlets near sanctuary explaining dos and don’ts

Buildings and infrastructural activities, ill-treatment by authorities and apathy of human encroachers to the animals inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), the only wildlife sanctuary in India adjacent to a large metropolis, is leading to increased conflict between people and leopards, a report published after a year-long project has said.

From 2000 to January 2013, there have been 125 leopard attacks on humans in and around the sanctuary.

The SGNP has 21 leopards, while the population density around it is approximately 20,000 people per kilometre.

The forest authorities have launched a campaign across the tribal hamlets in and around the Park explaining dos and don’ts to the people to avoid attacks. In Maroshi Pada, where an attack took place in January, posters alert people to the threat.

Mumbaikars for SGNP (MfSGNP), the project carried out by the Forest Department, SGNP and Centre for Wildlife Studies, was aimed at identifying the causes of conflict and measures needed to prevent it.

The report stressed the need for the Forest Department to engage with people and various stakeholders to fulfil its mandate to protect the leopards.

Around 103 sq km of the SGNP is nestled within a larger landscape administered by the Thane Territorial Forest Division. The three adjoining forest divisions to Thane are Junner Forest Division (belonging to Pune Forest Circle), Ahmadnagar and Nashik Forest Division (belonging to Nashik Forest Circle). There have been instances when leopards caught elsewhere were released in the SGNP, increasing the big cat population.

The Film City and Aarey Milk Colony, administered by the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB), are situated on the fringe of the Park.

“The garbage in Aarey colony is neither picked up by the Municipal Corporation nor by the Aarey management committee. It attracts dogs which are abundant in numbers and easy prey to leopards. When the big cats come to human habitations, naturally conflicts arise, leading to attacks,” said Sunil Limaye, chief conservator of the SGNP. The leopards have also met with accidents on roads, especially on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway which is close to the forest area. Hotels on the highway dump garbage near the road. This attracts the dogs, which in turn attract leopards. Since 1994, there have been 43 cases of such accidents.

The report mentioned that the landscape of the SGNP was currently spread across several government departments and sub-departments within the Forest Department, which often led to lack of coordination.