'Trapping leopards that stray into human habitat not the solution'

Report spells out the do's and don'ts of managing human-leopard conflict around Mumbai's Sanjay Gandhi National Park

By Akshay Deshmane
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Photo by Santosh Saligram (Mumbaikars from SGNP report)A year-long study, initiated by the Maharashtra forest department in collaboration with non-profit Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS), has recommended varous measures to minimise the human-leopard conflict in and around the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP). The study report titled Mumbaikars for Sanjay Gandhi National National Park (MfSGNP) was released on Thursday.

Findings of the research
  • A minimum of 21 adult leopards were identified using camera trap images in SGNP and the surrounding areas of Aarey Colony.

  • The leopard attacks peaked between 1997 and 1998 (24 attacks), with a much larger peak between 2002-2004 (84 attacks). The average number of leopard attacks on humans (including injuries and deaths) were seven per year between 1986 and 2010, but in the two years (1997-1998), the average was 12 attacks per year, and in the three years between 2002 and 2004, it was an average of 28 attacks per year. Between 2005 and 2010, the average number of leopard attacks on people was two per year. There is a general realisation among the forest department personnel that arbitrary capture of leopards and release worsen the problem and it appears to have drastically decreased since 2005.

  • Many of the attacks on humans could have been avoided if people were aware of the precautions they have to take to reduce conflicts.

  • The dog population, which provides, easy prey base to leopards, was estimated in and around Aarey Milk Colony through direct visual count. The area has high density of approximately 57 dogs per sq km. The study of herbivores suggests that overall, both cheetal and sambar, potential prey species of the leopard, seem to be most abundant in the central, southern and western parts of the park. Wild pigs, four-horned antelope and muntjac sign detections were very low overall, indicating their possible low density throughout the park. Occurrence of fire, followed by local collection of wood, grass and fruits seemed to be the most common forms of human disturbance, and, therefore, management may need to address these threats first. The report recommends that positive human presence (forest department personnel and wildlife viewers) be increased in the northern and eastern parts of the park.

  • A small study on leopard deaths due to road accidents since 1994 found that a total of 35 leopard accidents were hit by vehicles in the northern parts of the park. The report recommends that speed breakers be constructed in areas with high traffic and that that over-passes or under-bridges be built for the wild animals at a few points to aid movement opf wild animals between forest patches. Many of the accidents occurred near garbage dumps that were near hotels at the edges of the roads. These areas are likely to have stray dogs that attract leopards. The report recommends that the hotels at the edges of the highway be encouraged to dispose their wastes by composting.

  • The SGNP and surroundings is home to a variety of and often cosmopolitan communities. The report recommends the forest department needs to undertake structured outreach programmes in addition to biological monitoring, to manage interactions while accounting for diverse perceptions and their political impacts.

  • There are problems of jurisdiction which affect how the conflict is managed. Most of the leopard conflict occurs outside SGNP and is under the jurisdiction of Thane forest department. Thus, how the conflict is managed is not under the SGNP authorities.

An official statement said the project had set tasks like obtaining baseline data on number of leopards in SGNP, assessing prey population (both wild and domestic) and identifying patterns of conflict to derive logical explanations.  The other tasks included assessing stakeholders’ perception toward conflict and dissemination of the research findings among stakeholders.

“Attacks on people living in the vicinity of leopards can be minimised if certain precautions are taken. For instance, not venturing out in the dark alone, keeping surroundings clean, and thereby not attracting pigs and dogs on which the wild cats feed. It also calls for improving sanitation and waste handling practices,” says Vidya Athreya of CWS.

Adivasi communities who have been living in the forests for many centuries know how to co-exist with leopards, but newly settled people in hutments do not know it, says Krishna Tiwari, author of the Bombay Natural History Society’s City Forest Report.  “We have carried out several awareness programmes along with the forest department among such residents to make them aware about the dos and don’ts of living with leopards,” he said.
Sunetro Ghosal, one of the members of the MfSGNP, who studied several narratives about the national park among a cross-section of the nearly one million residents living on the periphery of the park, said such awareness programmes work. “When residents of Royal Palms in Aarey Colony wanted the forest department to trap the leopards, they were counselled about some basic measures that they can take not to encourage the cats to near them. So they have revamped their waste disposal practices and are more careful about moving about in the dark.”

Director of the SGNP, Sunil Limaye, says, the report has given important insights into the management of the conflict, especially with regard to the practice of trapping leopards, which was predominant method of tackling the problem in early 2000s. “There is a lot of political pressure to trap the leopards because human lives are involved and we need to be seen to be doing something. It is certainly not a solution to the problem, as this report has shown,” he says.

The researchers worked on the project between August 2011 and August 2012. Some small related works for the project such as DNA analysis of the leopards’ scat are still in progress and are likely to take a few months to conclude.

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  • People should be kept away

    People should be kept away from leopard territory.. Humans encroaching upon their habitat is the main cause of conflict between man and beast. And if people still refuse to keep their distance then we have to accept the consequences as natural.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply
  • The attacks on human lives by

    The attacks on human lives by leopards are sad and tragic. Yet to bring balance in to the discussion of interesting and colorful comments here it is equally important to have a clear focus and establish priorities like looking at some long term consequences too, such as :With regard to leopards what does the trail of victimsÔÇÖ points out to? How best to make use of the time and resources? Could these attacks been prevented? What are the flawed assumptions and what are viable solutions to prevent these incidents in the future?
    If you look at the headlines, you might think that monitoring of wildcats in national wildlife parks is continuous or ought to be. Yet it is not quite in place.
    Yet leopards are not the only ones that have attacked humans, leopards and other wild animals have attacked humans in the past too.
    Tigers, wolves, leopards are common predators in the wild. They are therefore unpredictable and dangerous. Wildcats are usually nocturnal creatures and hunt at night.
    Yet why do wild animals venture into human habitats? Quite simply, wild animals will compete with the humans when they encroach into their hunting grounds for resources and habitats. I mention the word ÔÇÿhabitatÔÇÖ to mean as part of a huge eco-system. Wild predators require large areas to roam, hunt, dwell and reproduce. Tigers are solitary creatures and they can cover vast distances.
    Quite often, forest dwellers raise sheep, goats, chickens and they are known to have attacks by such predators. Yet many tribals have lived in forest areas for centuries have learned to co-exist with them.
    This says a lot about wildlife, human settlements and Nature. Nature is not only about watching sunsets and sunrises, protecting tigers, like leopards, elephants are part of the natural resources, and more importantly, they also save our ecosystems. It is this intersection of urban-wild that often creates the encounter with animals that one is not used to. For the city dweller the encounter with wild predators is at best going to the zoo where animals are placed behind cages and high fences, or for the tourists the availability of safari parks, or for peopleÔÇÖs amusement animals performing at circuses, or for the suave hunter a prize hunt trophy.
    The goal must be to improve better understanding of how to co-exist with wildlife and unplanned urban development. For want of a better phrase, ÔÇÿconflictÔÇÖ arises when wildlife resources and movements are restricted. As human populations increase, so do human requirements for food, water and land. Thus land resources are transformed for human consumption affecting eco-systems. Thus this shrinks and restricts the resources of wildlife and flora. What is not mentioned clearly is that old forest dwellers like the various tribes learned to co-exist with the wildlife for many centuries, but it is the new forest dwellers and new settlers that are not aware of the base foundations. New settlers have been encroaching on forest areas and this poses additional challenges for conservation officials. Additional pressures upon wildlife and Nature come with the influx of visitors into forest and national parks. The construction of vast development projects such as roads, hamlets, office buildings and dams are all human activities that disrupt the livelihoods of wild species.
    Positive steps come from seeing to the welfare of saving endangered species of wildcats in India. (The Sumatran tigers in Surabaya Zoo in Indonesia for instance has appalling rates of care). At the Eleventh Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in October last year (2012) it was decided that the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) would soon create a national data base for tigers, and each one of the tigers would have a unique identification number and code. Monitoring helps towards giving an exact estimate of the tiger population in the country. It also reveals that high-stake decision-making that helps in the successful launch of this type of project. It also identifies critical path deliverables.
    Capturing lessons learned from even this unfortunate set of human tragedies provides not only invaluable research data about the wild-urban interface but also relational matters and information technology so that the resolution of meeting divergent stakeholder needs can be met or settle interdepartmental conflict as they arise. Thus one can afford to get past the ÔÇ£hurry it up and get things goingÔÇØ mindset and focus on more effective and efficient results giving scalability or help measure our collective efforts more fruitfully. This would afford sustainable development for both mankind and animal welfare. This would also help save the diminishing rate of leopards and hopefully help find solutions to enhance their genetic diversity needed for their species to survive. It would also help all the hard work of farmers, conservationists, forestry officials and others from being affected too adversely. This is an issue not only for one corner of the world, other wild animals do also venture into urban areas elsewhere in the world such as coyotes, brown bears, wolves, monkeys which venture into human habitats with consequences for urban populations.
    By G STEPHAN / France 07/02/2014

    Posted by: Anonymous | 6 years ago | Reply