Representational image
Representational image

Mumbai: Environmentalists have questioned the authenticity of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) 2017 census, conducted by the forest department. They allege manipulation of facts and numbers to divert attention from the development projects that loom large over the city’s largest green lung.

Naturalists have been confused over the census survey and fear manipulation of facts as compared to last year’s census. The point of question of naturalists lies in the count of leopards. “The biggest worry is maybe they (SGNP) are playing with facts. Various infrastructure projects are plaguing SGNP. So they are busy diverting attention to leopards by dramatically increasing the numbers. Where is the area left for these many cats to survive? The boundaries can be reached within 30 minutes by them,” said naturalist Krishna Tiwari, who is also the founder of NGO Forest and Wildlife Conservation Society.

As many as 27 new leopards had been camera-trapped in the SGNP and its surrounding areas during the forest department’s 2017 census, making the tally of big cats to 41 in 2017 from 35 in 2015. “We also found seven cubs, but they are not counted in the census as their survival rate is not very high,” said Nikit Surve, researcher from Wildlife Conservation Society who conducted the survey.

“For all we know, they might be lying all through about the rising numbers of tigers as well. The upcoming tiger census will come up with some elating numbers, but the reality might be something completely different,” said Stalin D, director, Vanashakti NGO.

Around 21 leopards from the 2015 database were not sighted in 2017. Ecologists said they might have migrated to another place or were not in the area during the census or there is also a possibility of them dying. While 15 of the 41 leopards sighted now are male, 23 are female and the gender of three has not been established.

Anwar Ahmed, chief conservator of forests, SGNP, quashed the allegations and clarified that the main reason the wild cat was thriving was due to the abundant availability of food in the park’s periphery. Earlier, a report submitted to the Forest Department said that the number of leopards in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park here has increased to 41, up from 35 in 2015,. The study, titled ‘Monitoring density and movement of leopards within Sanjay Gandhi National Park and along its periphery’, was undertaken by the SGNP and wildlife expert Nikit Surve.

Of the 41 leopards, 14 leopards were matched with the database recorded in 2015, and six matched with the 2011 database, the report said.

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