What does it feel like when you want to wander freely in your surroundings or go to a nearby store, and then one fine day an intrusion you never expected cuts off your access. Worse still, what if this intrusion takes the life of your own kind who were once as free as you were?
The aftermath of a leopard coming in contact with human development near the National Park in Mumbai.
I remember a story that intrigued me when, as a journalist, I started covering the environment for a newspaper I was working with in Mumbai, India. The story was that of a leopard, the 13th leopard in two years to be precise, who had died on Ghodbunder Road — a widely used state highway that cuts through dense forests that are a part of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) and connects the eastern and western suburbs of Mumbai — after being hit by a rashly driven car.
SGNP, a dense green cover and the only one in Mumbai, has long been an abode to diverse wildlife, including leopards who stroll to the nearby Vasai Creek and Thane Creek to the north for a dip or swim to the much denser forests beyond the creek in the Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary.
The broken green line is the path the leopard takes from the National Park to the denser forests in the northern region. Click on image to see it at full size. Map by Alpita Masurkar.
Building a state highway (which was gradually widened to make way for more traffic) through the forest without making provisions for a passage for these animals to the denser forests and creek beyond has blocked their direct access for good, and the leopards are compelled to step out of the forest onto the wide highway to make it to the creek or the Wildlife Sanctuary beyond. While 13 leopards died in this attempt between 2005 and 2007, these incidents have not ceased in the period following that.
It is, in fact, on the verge of getting worse with another Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) and railway tracks that will connect Delhi city in the northern part of India to Mumbai. The proposed DFC would pass through the Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary, further separating the National Park and the Wildlife Sanctuary that together make up a green corridor. Approximately 23.5 hectares of forest land is expected be given up for this purpose.
Infrastructural development is essential for economic development and progress. But what is the cost being paid for this? The leopard population in the SGNP-Tungareshwar green corridor has dipped from 54 in 2005 to 23 in 2009 and 21 in 2011 according to media reports on a wildlife census conducted by the national park officials. With the state highway, residential development has increased not only along the national park but also inside it. There are slums and tall residential buildings and complexes inside the forest. This has brought humans and leopards in close proximity, and there have been rampant leopard killings and human deaths because leopards stray into human territory in search of their natural ground or food.
Wildlife experts and activists in Mumbai have raised concerns over serious ecological imbalance that will be caused by the wiping away of this green corridor in a city already parched for greenery. I still think of these issues today and wonder how they can be resolved. What can be done along Ghodbunder Road to make passage for leopards to go to the denser forests beyond without coming in conflict with the humans? Wildlife experts have spoken of underground passages and culverts along Ghodbunder Road for the animals. Are these really feasible? If they are, why is there no attempt from the state to conserve this ecologically sensitive region? Could there have been a less ecologically harmful route designed for the Dedicated Freight Corridor that is now being planned to run through a forest? How have other cities in the world dealt with similar issues? These questions baffle me and I keep searching for answers.
This post is from Transit Secrets: The Unknown Paths from Point A to Point B – a current series on CoLab Radio.
Post by Alpita Masurkar.