A year-long camera-trapping study conducted in Aarey colony has shown that there are confirmed and regular sightings of nine leopards — two male, five female and two cubs.The study was carried out between December 2014 and December 2015 under instructions from Thane territorial forest department by a team including researchers and naturalists to understand the leopard movement inside Aarey colony for better mitigation of human-leopard conflict in the area.<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Chief conservator of forest KP Singh of Thane said that according to the preliminary reports submitted on Thursday it is clear that nine leopards have been identified and a complete detailed analysis report will be submitted in March.”Aarey colony is an extension of SGNP forest and was handed over to the dairy department. It is a well-known habitat for leopards as it’s known that the leopards from SGNP go towards Aarey. Hence, to gather more information this study was conducted,” he said, adding that one of the main aims behind this study, apart from understanding the number of leopards frequenting Aarey, was to understand the locations where they were found regularly so that more steps could be taken to prevent any kind of conflict.Singh also said that this initial report also highlights the importance of Aarey colony for Mumbai as Aarey is an important part of SGNP and plays a vital role as its surrounding buffer, where leopards are found, hence the request for it to be declared an Environment Sensitive Area (ESA) for further protection.Rajesh Sanap, a researcher who was part of the team that carried out the study and has even earlier worked on documenting the biodiversity of Aarey, said this study only showed the urgent need of ensuring that Aarey has to be conserved from rampant encroachments and habitat destruction.”Encroachments have been continuously growing at several locations where leopards have been seen moving regularly, which can lead to conflict. With the help of this study, we can now focus on spreading awareness amongst locals staying in these hamlets to ensure that humans adapt to live with the leopards,” said Sanap.He informed that their team was surprised to find leopards moving in extreme close vicinity to several tribal hamlets in Aarey without attacking anyone as they only came to these hamlets for hunting dogs or the feral pigs that feed on the garbage piled up in the areas. “Most attacks that have happened in Aarey were when the victims were answering nature’s calls. Many a times, leopards confuse children squatting on the ground with smaller prey, like dogs, and attack them,” he added.Wildlife photographer and naturalist Nayan Khanolkar, who was a part of the study and is an expert in setting up camera traps, said, “Through this study, we have been able to identify important areas, including tribal hamlets where leopards move daily to hunt for dogs or poultry. We used to set up camera traps post evening till early morning at several locations inside Aarey after carefully studying the movements of these big cats; with the images obtained based on the rosette patterns, nine leopards were identified.”This study has also posed questions on the claims made by the Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation, which in its intervention application at the National Green Tribunal in 2015, had claimed that Aarey is not a forestland.Leopard-human conflict at Aarey:November 2012: Sitabai Paage (50), a resident of Moroshi pada, was killed by a leopard when she stepped out of her house at night to relieve herself.January 2013: Vinod Hadal, an 18-year-old from Moroshi pada, was attacked by a leopard around 5.45am; his screams gathered people and saved his life.January 2013: Savita Warte from Khambyachapada sustained injuries after a leopard attacked her.January 2013: Ten-year-old Saurabh Yadav was killed by a leopard at Adarsh Nagar in Aarey when he was answering nature’s call.October 2013: A leopard mauled four-year-old Hiya Mhase, despite her grandmother being with her, while she was out answering nature’s call close to her house at Khadakpada in Aarey colony.October 2013: Seven-year-old Prakash Salunkhe, who was on his way home from Aarey municipal school, was killed after a leopard attacked him.
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