Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Leopards threatened by India's largest city

Ashwin Aghor
Monday, April 16, 2007 00:59 IST

Rapid development and encroachments around Mumbai's biggest green lung has now reached crisis point. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park can no longer accomodate humans and its edges and its leopard population is struggling for survival, says Ashwin Aghor

The occupants of Sanjay Gandhi National Park are feeling the heat. Not just by the scorching heat, but by the pressure of encroachment by humans. Animals, including leopards, venture out of the 104-sq-km National Park in search of food and water. Suddenly, the humans felt threatened. Some attacked the straying big cats with guns and sticks. Some caught the leopards. But few spared a thought to find out the real cause.

When wild animals along with 20-odd big cats in the park were struggling for life, around 4 million people surrounding them were creating new ways to reduce their land and to ‘protect rights' of encroachers at the same time.

It was the Bombay High Court that finally came to the rescue of wild animals. The court ordered eviction of the illegal slums from the forest. But the joy of environmentalists and other wildlife lovers after the 1997 order was short-lived as some influential persons managed to stall the eviction. Since then, the court has passed many orders to evict the slums and also stayed them.

However, the latest order by the court to evict slums before December 31, seems to work as for the first time, the court has warned that the forest department officials would be held personally responsible if the orders were not implemented.

The park is not only the lungs of Mumbai but also the only national park in the world, within city limits, and a major source of water for the city. Most importantly, the forest absorbed 40 per cent rain water during 26/7 deluge thereby reducing intensity of possible disaster.

But the way politicians and builders in the city are out to destroy forests; the benefits the city is reaping out the forest are most likely to go down the drain.

Every time a leopard either strays in housing societies on fringes of the park or attacks any human being, some political leaders and NGOs create hue and cry. According to environmentalists, 20-odd leopards and other animals in the park can dwell in the park if the area is cleared of encroachments. The problem can be solved to great extent if the 25,000 people staying in the park are shifted.

"Human greed is the cause; be it for votes or money. No wild animal will attack other animals without reason. Leopards cannot be held responsible for the attacks. Those who encroached on the park land are solely responsible for the problem," says Debi Goenka, Bombay Environmental Action Group.

Goenka, who moved the High Court for shifting illegal slums from the park said, "We are so ungrateful to the Nature that we even forgot that the national park has saved the city during 26/7 deluge. Had park not been there to help, around 40 per cent rain water would have flown on city roads. But we conveniently ignored this."


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