August 14, 2019: Country Director Ms Prakriti Srivastava visited Mumbai where WCS-India has been involved in long-term work with the Maharashtra Forest Department in order to mitigate human leopard conflict. The visit covered the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) which is home to the highest density of leopards reported anywhere in the world. The park is also surrounded by the metropolis of Mumbai where human densities are extremely high.
Country Director WCS-I Prakriti Srivastava with staff Vidya Athreya and Nikit Surve, and Mr. Deore (RFO), Dr Pethe (Veterinary officer, SGNP) and members of the rescue team at SGNP
Ms. Srivastava started her tour by meeting the Range forest Officer Mr Deore, who narrated the way they monitor sensitive areas and talk to residents who have sighted leopards in their vicinity. Dr. Shailesh Pethe, the veterinary doctor of the Rescue Team, spoke of how the rescue team works to deal with emergency situations in and around the Park, including extremely dense urban areas. Ms. Srivastava then visited some areas outside the Park where leopards were camera trapped by the WCS-India team.
A meeting was held with Mr. S. B. Limaye, the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife – East), who talked about his management experiences from the Mumbaikars for SGNP project during which he involved non-governmental organizations, individuals and interested people, to ensure people’s safety with respect to the leopards. He noted with pride that eight years since the project was initiated in 2011, it still continues to progress successfully.
WCS-I Country Director with the APCCF WL and journalists from Mumbai
Ms. Srivastava interacted with two journalists, Mr. R. Jadhav and Mr. V. Singh on how the media in Mumbai played a crucial role in changing the sensational narrative about leopards, with a more balanced reporting that has changed the way people dealt with the leopards, thus benefitting both people and the leopards.
Finally, Ms. Srivastava attended a Mumbaikars for SGNP awareness session in Thakur College, where the citizens group, as well as rescue team members, provided multiple perspectives to the audience (among whom many live around the Park) shifting the narrative from one dominated by fear of leopards to one that enables greater understanding of leopards targeted at safety of the people. In the past, areas around the Park were subject to a large number of leopard attacks on humans. However, proactive measures undertaken by the National Park authorities in collaboration with the other important stakeholders (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAaVHZIEbJ8) have aided in reducing conflict, making it almost non-existent.