How Sanjay Gandhi National Park Officials Are Improving Life For Mumbai's Leopards

How Sanjay Gandhi National Park Officials Are Improving Life For Mumbai's Leopards
The Guardian

Perched on top of a wooden table, a leopard at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali is trying to resume his old life. Originally in a 10 X 15 ft. cage, 15 leopards now have a bigger play area in the park. With the 20 X 30 ft. enclosures that were built over one and a half years ago, 15 leopards can now finally have some semblance of their natural habitat. Dr. Shailesh Pethe, the Veterinary doctor at Sanjay Gandhi National Park observes a video on his computer where a leopard is scratching a wooden log in his enclosure. 

“He is filing his nails,” he explains. Over the last two years, the park has made efforts to provide an enriching diet and a natural habitat to the leopards that have been trapped and found injured at the leopard rescue centre at Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
With diet control and an exercise regimen, however, they seem to be showing considerable positive progress. 

“Many people think that diet means reducing food quantity but that’s not the case here,” he said. 8 female and 7 male leopards are being fed 3 to 3-and-a-half kilos of beef each. Their new diet also involves ruling out chicken as it makes them gain weight. A lot of medicines and antibiotics are given through their meals and special grass and shrubs have been planted that help them with their digestion. 

“A few adivasis and tribals noticed their eating habits and suggested that we plant the same grass available in the wild in the enclosure. Leopards eat a lot of grass to counter the acidity that builds up due to the meat,” Dr. Pethe continues.

Leopard enclosure have their own watering holes and fibre balls to play with

In the last decade, countless news reports in the city have reported leopards in human settlements and of their subsequent trappings and enclosure. Not to mention the need for us, Mumbai’s citizens, to learn to live with leopards and redefine our unique ecosystem. Some of these trapped leopards were living in cages for a long time that made them self-harm. “If you put a wild animal in a cage, what will happen? They will self-mutilate by licking their paws and biting their own tails. With the lack of movement, they become obese and also suffer from arthritis. The smaller the cage, the bigger these problems. But the biggest problem they face in a trap is loneliness,” he said. 

Vikas Gupta, chief conservator of forest, SGNP, said that a man-animal conflict usually leads to the animal being trapped. “We have the highest density of leopards in the country. Compared to that, the leopard sightings have been minuscule. We don’t want to trap these animals, but when you get several calls about an animal being seen in a human environment, you have to take action. The leopards here have become so used to human interaction now that it wouldn’t be possible to return them to the wild,” he said. 

The leopards are off-limits for visitors as of yet and there has been considerable improvement in their health ever since they have been introduced to the new enclosure. 

“We can give qualitative data that leopards have lost considerable weight and are more active and agile. They have become playful and active. They seem happy and excited when they are released in the enclosure. They are let out from 9 a.m to 5 p.m to feel the sun and sand below their paws. We have tried to increase their level of activity by introducing various objects,” said Dr. Pethe.


A big fibre ball is the main attraction for these leopards. Wooden tables, logs of wood resembling a tree-structure, a small watering hole with river pebbles and various types of grass are available to them.There are 20 enclosures where there are separate male and female sections into which they can be released in pairs. “We are trying to give them humane treatment. These activities and a company of another leopard de-stresses them. In Sanjay Gandhi National Park as well, we never try to trap a leopard. That’s the worst thing you can do. A leopard here lost his foot by coming between a snare (trap) and another was rescued from a well where he had fallen. We let them be wild in their own surroundings. In the forest, there are deers and other animals that they can hunt and they themselves balance the ecology. We just have to let them be. We are only facilitators. The reason we keep male and female leopards separated is because mating would only increase their problems. A female leopard can’t teach living in the wild to her cub in this enclosure which would only create more issues,” said Dr. Pethe.
Gupta said that they have not received a single call to trap a leopard in the last two years. “It is a part of the concerted efforts at SGNP (Sanjay Gandhi National Park). A leopard doesn’t want to live in a human environment. He will go back to where he came from if he doesn’t find what he’s looking for. Usually it is a farmer’s livestock or stray dogs and with our awareness campaigns, we have managed to educate a lot of people in these peripheries. We tell people to keep their livestock and pets in a closed area and ask BMC to spay and neuter stray animals. We have educated local police and residents about the correct way to approach a situation where a leopard has been sighted. Trapping a leopard is not the right strategy; they disappear on their own without any conflict. In the last few years, there have been negligible incidents of man-animal conflict,” he insists. The leopard rescue centre treats injured leopards and sometimes, they take long to heal. One leopard has been with SGNP for 14 years now. “They become habituated to the human presence and if released in the wild, the conflict could rise again,” said Gupta. SGNP’s next plan of action is to open a leopard safari avenue when it gets clearances. It will add to the already functioning Lion and Tiger Safari and the trapped leopards could be open to public view.

For more information, read this article.
Feature Image Courtesy: Steve Winter for National Geographic Magazine (The image was used for representational purposes only)

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