SGNP animal census indicates increase in leopard prey base

Times News Network, May 17 2017

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MUMBAI: At 6.35pm, a coming of age chital rubs the velvet off his antlers against a tree trunk, while his herd of nine, consisting females and juveniles, browses nearby. As the sun goes down, the herd moves towards Vihar lake for the last drink of the day, no longer in view from the watchtower.

The annual 24-hour waterhole census at Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) has thrown up a pleasant surprise. The sighting of spotted deer has increased more than threefold. While 115 spotted deer were seen during the 2016 census, the number rose to 392 this year.

Unlike for counting leopards, modern methods like camera trapping and line transects are not used to estimate deer populations. “But the waterhole census gives an indicative estimate of the population of herbivores; and this is a very positive indication,” said Mohan Naikwadi, assistant conservator of forests (ACF), SGNP. “The number of fawns sighted in the herds has also increased considerably, indicating a healthy breeding population,” he said.
Last November, the national park authorities started work on the ‘Grasses for Leopards’ project to propagate native palatable grasses throughout the park to provide food for herbivores and increase their population. The exercise is aimed at expanding the natural prey base of leopards.
The grasslands restored by uprooting weeds around the Tulsi and Vihar lakes have become preferred feeding grounds of herbivores. But it’s too early to call the project a success, said Anwar Ahmed, chief conservator of forests (CCF) and director, SGNP. “I am happy that out initial effort has shown positive results. Our staff has been collecting seeds of palatable grasses since last November. We are ready with plans to restore grasslands all over the park. Let the first rains come,” said Ahmed.
“While it’s heartening to see wildlife thriving in the park as habitats are restored, infrastructure development projects, like widening of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad national highway, the underground tunnel between Borivli-Thane and proposed car park are going to chip away the park bit by bit. This will shrink and fragment the wildlife habitat and cause loss of biodiversity,” said wildlife activist Krishna Tiwari.

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