Who is the Intruder: Mankind or Wildlife?

In the last couple of years, there have been numerous reports and news stories of “leopard scares” in and around the forests of Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai.

Leopards have intruded upon the residents of Royal Palms and their children are now afraid to move out alone. Forest officials have constantly tried to pacify residents by making them understand that they are living near a forest; they have to be more tolerant of the wildlife in the area because after all, it is their home too.

On the other hand, between the years 2002 and 2004, nearly fifty people have been killed by leopards, twenty of them killed just outside the park.Forestofficials have tried patrolling the areas but it is not enough in a city as vast as Mumbai. Slum-dwellers have encroached on nearly two hundred hectares of forest land because they lack homes. While some have been rehabilitated, there are many who still live within the forest.

The park authorities are carrying out their responsibilities by constructing a boundary wall that will prevent wild animals from straying into residential areas. However, forty four kilometers of boundary wall still needs to be erected. But up until then, the only way to resolve the human-leopard conflict is by spreading awareness among the people.

These news stories have made me question our own standing as humans?

Who are the real intruders – the animals or us?

Why are real-estate developers building more and more residential buildings and villas near these forest areas?

Wildlife conservation is not just about protecting the wildlife within the confines of their habitat but also to ensure that we do not encroach on their land and wreck their habitat. With the rapid growth in infrastructure development and the rising demand for prime residential properties in the scenic hills of the National Park, we are gradually heightening the risk of us being attacked by leopards and other wild species.

By nature, animals tend to avoid humans. They only attack if provoked. Families willing to purchase properties in such forest areas should be aware that only they are responsible for endangering their safety.

Children should be made aware. They should not try to scare the leopard away by making loud noises or bursting fire crackers. Residents should not form a crowd around the leopard and try to corner it. This only frightens the animal and it responds in the only way it knows. It attacks. Not to mention that residential areas should also be devoid of any garbage and filth.

Most of these are temporary solutions for the problem. The real solution would be to legally stop construction activities in surrounding forest areas. The area should be sealed off as a wildlife conservation zone. Slum-dwellers who live within the forest should be given alternate accommodations by the government.

National Parks in our country are our heritage – a legacy that needs to be preserved. If remedial steps are not taken soon then that day is not far when the leopard will go the way of the dodo, a now extinct bird.

Kritika Pramod Kulshrestha

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