Leopards and people
The SGNP landscape (the park and areas around it) is home to a rich biological and social diversity. It is also home to leopards (Panthera pardus), who have historically been a part of this landscape. While there is adequate prey within the park, several leopards have territories along the periphery of SGNP, which often extend into the urban areas of Mumbai and Thane that have an abundance of food resources, especially stray dogs that survive on garbage. It’s hardly surprising that studies of leopard scat, such as the one carried out by Nikit Surve in 2015, have found that domestic prey contributed 43% of the leopard’s diet in SGNP, with dogs accounting for 24%.
Leopards are the top predator in the SGNP landscape and vital for its socio-ecological health. There have been a few episodes of intense conflict between leopards and people, especially in 2003-04. Several contributing factors have now been identified for these episodes of conflict, including the practice of relocating of leopards away from their home range and the impact of trapping on their behaviour.
The Forest Department has the legal mandate to manage human-leopard interactions. However, it cannot perform these tasks by itself and has taken the initiative to reach out to various stakeholders through projects like Mumbaikars for SGNP. These collaborations have emerged as a vital strategy for managing human-leopard interactions and prevent conflict in the SGNP landscape.
Do get in touch with us to explore how you can contribute to reducing conflicts and managing human-leopard interactions.
The terms ‘leopard’ and ‘panther’ are often used interchangeably for the same species. Leopards belong to Order Carnivora, Family Felidae and Sub-family Pantherinae. There are large variations in their coat colour, ranging from grey to ochre, as well as black, which are more common in moist tropical forests. Leopards are known to survive across a wide range of ecosystems; from sub-Saharan Africa to the Russian Far-East. In many places, they live in close proximity with humans, and generally do not harm people.
The home ranges of male leopards overlap with those of several females. The territories of females do not overlap with other females but are usually shared with the female’s offspring till they become sub-adult (nearly 2 years of age). Male sub-adults are known to disperse across larger distances in search of new territory, while females often occupy areas close to their maternal range. In addition to gender, availability of food resources is an important factor to determine the size of a leopard’s territory.
A leopard with an average weight of around 45 kgs, requires about 1.5 to 2.5 kgs of food each day or about 35g of meat per kilogram of body weight. The leopard’s prey is variable and ranges from small insects and crustaceans to large herbivores. In SGNP, leopards do hunt a large variety of prey, including wild herbivores such as chital and sambar. In addition, leopards in SGNP also feed on domesticated animals, especially stray dogs, as they are easier to catch and occur in large numbers around the park. This has been observed in many other places where leopards hunt domestic animals, even when wild prey species are abundant.
In India, leopards enjoy the highest level of legal protection (Schedule I of The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972). Despite this, they remain under constant threat of poaching for illegal trade in their body parts. Currently, the leopard population in India is estimated to be around 14,000.
About the Mumbaikars for SGNP project
The SGNP landscape has witnessed several episodes of conflict between humans and leopards, with the most intense being in 2003-04. These conflicts were fuelled by the practice of trapping and relocating leopards in response to pressure from different sections of human society on the Forest Department. However, rather than reducing conflict, this practice is now known to increase conflicts, as the territory emptied by the trapped animal attracts other leopards who were unfamiliar with the area. The practice also increases conflict in the area where the trapped leopard is released, as the animal, traumatised by the trapping process, is released in an unfamiliar area and attempts to return to its home range.
While episodes of conflicts, such as 2003-04, are rare, leopards continue to live in the SGNP landscape, along with an estimated 20,925 people per sq km (according to the 2011 census). In response to the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the practice of trapping leopards has stopped, except in very extreme cases. This has contributed to a drastic reduction of conflicts. However, people’s representatives and residents continue to demand and pressure the Forest Department to trap leopards, when they are observed in an area or are captured by CCTV cameras. In an effort to proactively address this pressure and enable people to live with leopards, the Forest Department started a project called Mumbaikars for SGNP in 2011.
The objectives of the project includes conducting research, assisting in the management of human-leopard interactions and engaging with a diversity of stakeholders to help them adopt proactive steps to reduce risks of conflict (see Resources section). The project is also an opportunity for different stakeholders to collaborate with the Forest Department.
Living with leopards
As part of the Mumbaikars for SGNP project, the Forest Department has initiated the Living with Leopards Network of interested residents and representatives of different groups. The members of this network participate in regular workshops about SGNP and human-leopard interactions and serve as communication channels for their area/institution. These individuals are also sensitised on procedures to follow during a leopard-related emergency to reduce risks to people and leopards, till Forest Department and Police personnel arrive to resolve the crisis.
If you are a resident or work around SGNP, your participation is crucial to manage human-leopard interactions around the park and reduce conflict. We can start with an interaction with your co-residents or co-workers about precautions to reduce the risk of conflict with leopards. We can then discuss your interest in being a part of the Living with Leopard Network.
As part of the network, you will be involved in periodic orientation programmes about leopards and SGNP and will play a key role in coordinating the flow of information.
Please do get in touch, if you are interested in becoming a part of this network or know someone else who may be interested.
The project is also developing an internship programme for students to experience conservation-in-practice and the application of conservation-related theories. This will help generate new knowledge and build skills in the next generation of conservation scientists through a tempered mix of theory and practice.
Do get in touch with us, if you are interested in doing an internship with the Mumbaikars for SGNP project.
Get in touch
In case of an emergency in Mumbai and adjoining areas of Thane district, please call Thane Forest Division Control room. The SGNP team manages such emergencies within the Park area, while also assisting the Thane team outside the Park area. You can call either of the two control room numbers and they will coordinate to ensure that the Forest Department team responds to your call, and if necessary reaches your premises in the shortest possible time.
- Sanjay Gandhi National Park Control Room: 022-28866449
- Thane Forest (Territorial) Division Control Room: 022-25445459
- If you would like to get in touch with the members of the Mumbaikars for SGNP project, please email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mumbaikars for SGNP is also on social media and you can become a member of the project’s facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/MSGNP/