Gobar Times
Open Forum

Make Room For Mister Leopard! Shall We?

Leopards may invoke the feeling of fear and often make an uninvited entry into human habitat, but it is not their fault entirely. As a Mumbai-based organisation aims to find a good solution, GT breaks down the issue for you

imageBuilt close to the boundary of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), many societies like the Hill View are proving to be an ever-increasing threat to the natural habitat of these big cats, hence, causing such intrusions. Believe it or not, an estimated one million people are living around the SGNP. So it comes as no surprise that leopards are now finding their way into people’s homes, in that area.
 

 
GT spoke to wildlife biologist Vidya Athreya who specialises in the study of leopards.
 

image“We don’t have a choice but to live with the leopards. But by saying that I don’t mean literally living with them! What I am saying is just the way people in the rural world learn to co-habit with animals, their livestock and family, people in the urban areas will also have to learn. They have no choice! We have also conducted leopard collaring work, which shows how leopards can stay among humans while avoiding them,”

 

Vidya Athreya, Research Associate Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) – India program

Since November 2011, there have been six attacks that turned fatal in Aarey Milk Colony, which is to the south of the Park. As a matter of fact, slum dwellers are at a much higher risk of being attacked because of their living conditions. Garbage, pigs, dogs and other small animals are an easy prey for these big cats. Also, lack of sanitation and community bathrooms literally puts people from the slums in the jaws of death because when they go out to relieve themselves, there may be leopards lurking in the dark, waiting to attack them.

But instead of panicking and hyperventilating about the issue, there is an organisation that is trying to calm things down. Called ‘Mumbaikars for SGNP,’ it is all for involving locals, spreading awareness about the behaviour of leopards and taking precautions. The ‘Mumbaikars’ are trying to convince people not to get these cats relocated or trapped because that may snowball the situation as it happened in the sugarcane plantations of northern Maharashtra.

Leopards found in these plantations were trapped and sent away in 2003.

“By removing a leopard from an area, experts say is a cause to invite more leopards into places of unfamiliarity. Imagine having to live with an animal who doesn’t know how to deal with you?”
 

FACT SHEET: Leopard: Who and what they have been up to?
 
  • Part of the cat family, the scientific name for a leopard is Panthera Pardus.
  • Did you know that a leopard’s tail is as long as its entire body, it helps balance its agile body.
  • According to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) the reason why leopards hunt within the human habitat is not because of a conflict between the human and wildlife worlds. It’s because of dogs! The research done in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district revealed that dogs are their favourite food at 39 per cent while cats comprise 15 per cent of their diet.
  • In Himachal Pradesh, there were 362 leopard attacks in 2004 that resulted in 31 deaths, injuring 331 people. The HP government spent Rs. 72 lakh on compensating victims.

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But some of them who got injured during the lock-in were released into unknown territories. That action, researchers believe, became the cause of those grave leopard attacks, which took place in suburban Mumbai between 2003 and 2004. Athreya also advises ways on how we can minimise the risk of a leopard attack in places like Mumbai. “Leopards get attracted to garbage and animals like goats and pigs. People in Mumbai should keep their surroundings clean so that they don’t trespass their territory.”

Leopards per se are protective by nature and like to know the area where they roam. By removing a leopard from an area, experts say, can make more leopards enter into places of unfamiliarity. Imagine having to live with an animal who doesn’t know how to deal with you?

Actually, the real problem lies somewhere else. SGNP is the home of the leopard and people living in societies, bordering the Park are encroaching its habitat. So it is important to find a middle ground and take proper precautions instead of completely removing the leopards.

A few other experts also believe in other reasons for these attacks. An injured or a newly-released leopard may aimlessly saunter into a building while we think otherwise. And for places like Mumbai where the rains are so heavy that make the city so green, this may well prove to be a great hiding place for these big cats.

Simply removing them from any habitat is definitely not a permanent solution. This will require a great amount of thought and research. An ideal scenario would be to have a place where there is an integration of wildlife and people, so that either does not feel overwhelmed by the other. But in a world where we are not ready to adjust our life for our fellow beings, do you think it is really possible to come up with such a solution? We leave you with this thought to mull over.

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Make Room For Mister Leopard! Shall We?