PUNE: A leopard walking into the city is no real surprise to forest and conservation experts who have blamed shrinking forests and rising sugar cane fields for such events.
Less forest means less prey and leopards have been driven to living and breeding in sugar cane fields, they said. The fields, undisturbed for 18 months, offer them a perfect sanctuary, Leopard sightings have gone up now because the sugar cane cutting season is underway.
Assistant conservator of forests, Pune division, Mahesh Bhavsar, said leopards sighted in Pune may belong to the sugar cane fields around the city.
“We get several calls about leopard sightings around Daund which has sugar cane fields. The leopard caught in Mundhwa on Monday may have come from here. It could not have walked from the Western Ghats, crossed Pune and then gone to Mundhwa,” he said.
Leopards cover 25-30 km in a day. “They can stray into the city as they are around humans in the sugar cane fields. Their numbers have been rising due to conservation laws and healthy breeding,” Bhavsar said.
Ajay Deshmukh, the senior veterinarian at Wildlife SOS Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre, said during the sugar cane cutting season, leopards that inhabit such fields, suddenly find their homes gone. “They then seek out human habitats for food,” he added.
City-based wildlife researcher Sanjay Thakur said their prey size has also fallen. Portions of ARAI hills and NDA hills in the city have turned into forest areas. “The dense foliage has single-species trees which are not conducive for herbivores. Hence, leopards are moving to places in search of smaller animals,” he added.
Wildlife biologist and a researcher-cum-conservationist Vidya Athreya said the forest department, police, and the civic body must prepare for such events. “Some places have included wildlife emergencies in the district disaster management plan. Mumbai’s example can be replicated,” she added.