रविवार, १२ जून, २०१६

Where science and art flourish together!

Arjun Srivathsa
Arjun Srivathsa is a 26 years old wildlife biologist and an artist! An alumnus of the graduate program in Wildlife Biology and Conservation at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru, Arjun was honoured with the Young Naturalist Award by Sanctuary Asia in 2014.
He is currently doing his PhD program in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at the University of Florida.

Here he shares with us his journey to becoming a wildlife researcher, how he blends science and art together to convey the message of conservation, key learning from his studies and lot more….  

Please tell us about your journey to wildlife studies? How did you turn to it?
The first turning point in my life was my first visit to the jungle as a 12-year old, as part of a three-day school trip to Bandipur Tiger Reserve. I was completely fascinated and from then on, every time that people asked me what I wanted to be, I would say “zoologist”. I don't think my parents fully understood this obsession. But they gave me the freedom to choose my career, rather than coax me into taking up engineering or medicine, which were mainstream career choices in the mid-2000s. During my undergraduate years, I volunteered with various conservation organizations, trying to understand what wildlife biology was all about. This was also the time that my knowledge of conservation issues in India deepened. These initial experiences were crucial, they made me realize that there’s nothing in the world that I would rather be doing. The second turning point was when I qualified for the M.Sc- Wildlife Biology and Conservation at the National Centre for Biological Sciences Following that, for 3 years now, I have been working as a carnivore biologist with Wildlife Conservation Society’s India program.
Arjun at a field survey
You have made an excellent mix of art and science in your work. How did this idea come to your mind?
Art has always been an integral part of my life. I have been drawing and painting ever since I was a child. And now, studying wildlife and making wildlife-themed artwork are two things I enjoy the most. Following my training as a scientist, one reality that struck me was that Indian wildlife biologists have been doing exceptionally high-quality scientific studies, but a major part of what they find or discover is never communicated to people. That is when I decided to put science and art together, through my initiative ‘Pocket Science India’.
Cartoon on Elephant poaching for ivory
Sketch by Arjun Srivathsa
Pocket Science India, sounds very interesting, tell us more about it 
Pocket Science India is a venture to combine wildlife science with art, to promote conservation awareness in India. The cartoons or cartoon-series are mostly information from scientific journal articles (which are either inaccessible to people or rather complicated to understand), translated into art panels. The idea is to bridge the gaps between the work Indian wildlife scientists are doing and the non-scientific audience, with a touch of humour. So far, I have successfully converted research articles on leopards, hornbills, gharials, dugongs, elephants and a suite of other species into cartoons. You can find the entire set of series on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/pocketscienceindia. In the past couple of years, my science-themed art has been very useful in communicating wildlife science to the people, raising funds for research projects and also in creating conservation awareness.
Vultures Of India
Sketch by Arjun Srivathsa
Where do you prefer to use your talent, in art forms or analyzing data?
I do both! In fact, I spend almost 90% of my time struggling with statistics, trying to analyze data and writing up scientific papers. If I could choose, then I would only do the art. But both these aspects have their own purpose. And I am happy that I currently do both.
Fishing Cat
Sketch by Arjun Srivathsa
You studied dholes, leopards, tigers and other mammals in Western Ghats, you also published a paper on leopard cats recently. What are the key learnings?
Under the mentorship of tiger biologist Dr. UllasKaranth, at the Wildlife Conservation Society-India (WCS-India)I have been working on ecology of carnivores. My first project involved a multi-scale study of dholes (wild dogs) in Karnataka’s Western Ghats. Our research discovered that dholes are found across nearly 14,000 sq.km of Karnataka’s forests in the ghats, nearly half of which are not under any national park or wildlife sanctuary. We also found that chital (spotted deer) and sambar deer were very important factors for supporting dhole populations in the landscape. Following that, my work with WCS-India’s research team has expanded to include studies of leopards, tigers, sloth bears, leopard cats, and also other aspects of wildlife research, like human impacts on forest systems.
About the leopard cat, having recognised that there is very little knowledge on small felids of Asia,​ my colleagues and I ​​estimated populations of the leopard cat in the Western Ghats. ​With poaching, habitat loss, and illegal pet trade threatening their survival, there was crucial necessity for such a study. There is need for similar assessments of leopard cat populations across their distribution range. Our study, which involved camera trap surveys across about 2000 sq. km area, identified Bhadra and Biligiri Rangaswamy Temple Tiger Reserves as potential population strongholds for the species. Within areas where they occurred, higher leopard cat densities were clustered around secondary or disturbed forests and forest coffee plantation ​​habitats. ​We also observed that their densities were high around human settlements, likely driven by presence of rodents. ​These kinds of annual surveys need to be combined with continuous population monitoring to understand leopard cats better, and ensure their long-term conservation.
by Arjun Srivathsa
You have a special relationship with the Dhole, tell us how it all began?
I chose to study dholes almost by chance for my MSc. I always liked the idea of studying carnivores, but the dhole was definitely not on my mind. But when I started reading about these social carnivores, I found them absolutely fascinating. They live in packs, they don't really bark, they are able to hunt and kill prey animals that are much bigger than themselves and most interestingly, they are able to carry out coordinated attacks in dense forests! I also realized that there is very little known about dholes in India, although India may be the country with the world’s highest dhole population. I am glad I chose to study dholes for my MSc and I definitely want to continue working on them.
Dhole (धोल)
Sketch by Arjun Srivathsa
Please share your most heartwarming experience?
There are so many memorable field experiences. In fact, every single day spent in a forest is unique and it teaches something new. But the one experience I will always treasure is seeing the full sequence of a pack of dholes hunt and kill a spotted deer near our camp in Bandipur, during my MSc field work.
Wolf
Sketch by Arjun Srivathsa
On the current talk of development in the country, what would you say?
The current government’s approach to development is wrong. They are compromising on ecological security, the loss we will incur in this process is irreversible. What happened in the United States in the 50s to 70s is happening in India today. They built mega infrastructures like dams, which they are now destroying as the water crisis is deepening. Our population scenario is very different too. We can’t just copy and paste just any model of development here.
The government is also embarking upon the “interlinking of rivers” project. This will be an even bigger disaster than the big dams. Every river has its own course according to its geographical nature. Linking perennial and seasonal rivers will disturb both ecologies that have flourished around the rivers and adapted to their conditions for a very long time.
Even solar energy, which is clean and green, is being laid on grasslands and scrublands that the government has classified as wastelands! They are not wastelands, they are very important habitats of foxes, wolves, chinkaras and many other endangered species. Destruction of this ecology will have far reaching ill effects.
The same harm is done when you construct wind mills in Western Ghats. Roads, labour colonies and other supporting infrastructure can have immense negative impacts on forests, the flora and fauna.
We may realize the disastrous consequences of all these activities after 10 or 20 years but it might be too late.
Cartoon on Dugongs
Sketch by Arjun Srivathsa
Can wildlife in India hang its hope on the young generation?
Most certainly! Compared to the 1970s and the 80s, we have so many more wildlife biologists now. There are institutions taking academic interest in the field of wildlife biology and there are also a lot more people who want to take this up as a career. But more than the young generation, I feel it is the government that needs to step-up and support long-term conservation of our wildlife and wild landscapes. It is sad that we have to fight our own government in an attempt to make our people realize the kind of ecological wealth we have in our country. It is also disheartening to see that the flawed idea of ‘development’ is making us lose something really valuable in the process.
Tiger with cubs
Sketch by Arjun Srivathsa

-Interviewed by Parikshit Suryavanshi
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Published in TBI in a different form :

शनिवार, २० फेब्रुवारी, २०१६

A voice from the waste box

Ashabai Doke

Ashabai Doke is an ecofriendly entrepreneur from Aurangabad, Maharashtra. She is associated with Civic Response Team (CRT^) - an organization from the same city working in the field of solid waste management. She is also the chief organizer a union of wastepickers in Aurangabad.
She manages dry waste collection shops and provides better earnings to seven wastepicker women. Her efforts have been instrumental in improving working conditions and income of other 40 wastepickers/sanitary workers. In association with CRT and Aurangabad Municipal Corparation, she looks forward to expand her work and improve the life conditions of many more such workers. 
She was invited to Paris for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – Conference of the Parties 21 (UNFCCC CoP21) to share her experiences and thoughts however unfortunately she couldn’t go.

A wastepicker turned an entrepreneur here she shares her extraordinary life journey.

FROM A WASTE PICKER TO AN ENTREPRENEUR, PLEASE SHARE YOUR LIFE JOURNEY WITH US.
I was born in a small village, could learn only up to the 3rd standard and married off at the age of 12 years. Though I was married into a farmers’ family, the region was drought prone and agriculture was a lost cause. We moved to Aurangabad 25 years ago. Initially tried my hand on other works but couldn’t get any regular one. Finally went for picking waste with some relative women who were living nearby. I stepped into the pile of waste some 20 years ago and I am still in the same business, just slightly better placed than others.    
The scrap dealer to whom I was selling my collection had sold his shop to someone else. The new shop owner was cutting on weight saying the waste is wet and it weighs more. One day, even after the end of monsoon and the waste being dry he cut on my weight. I asked him, “Why do you do this? I won’t sell my collection to you.” He said, “You have no option, where will you sell?” I took it as a challenge. I took a piece of land on lease for Rs.2000 per month and started collecting waste material there. After a month bigger scrap dealer came to me and offered 2 to 3 rupees extra after each kilo of each scrap item (i.e. paper, cardboard, plastic bags, water bottles etc). Thus my business took off in 2010.
After a few months I fell ill. I couldn’t run the set up for the next four years. I kept paying the rent. My whole family had to adopt several austerity measures to manage this unproductive expenditure. However we did because we wanted to retain the place which otherwise could have been lost immediately. Even now the other scrap dealers try to snatch it from me. They approach the landlady and offer more rent but as the lady has greater faith in me she has not given in to them.
In January 2015, with the help of a woman relative I reopened my shop. She gave me Rs. 30,000, with this money I paid the debt of three wastepicker women and freed them from a scrap dealer. After some time, advocate Umarikar also helped with Rs.50,000 and now I have seven women selling their waste directly to me and 40 others working with me through a contractor from Waluj.
Sorting lives : around 50 wastepicker and sanitary workers sell their waste to Ashabai.
Photo : Parikshit Suryavanshi
YOU SAID YOU FREED THE WOMEN, WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
In the time of crisis like illness which is quite regular due to the unhygienic working and living conditions, marriage of a girl child etc, wastepicker women have to borrow money from the scrap dealer. He gives money on the condition that the woman will sell her collection to him only. They cheat on weight, cut on rates, however these illiterate women don’t understand it. They are trapped into a vicious cycle.
SETTING FREE A BONDED LABOUR MUST NOT BE EASY. ARE THERE ANY LEGAL ISSUES? KINDLY ELABORATE ON THIS.
Actually this is an informal transaction. There are no written documents. However a scrap dealer knows how to recover his money. For him, it is rather an investment. He uses all sorts of argument and convincing tactics to retain the wastepickers.
When I pay the debt of a wastepicker woman and free her from a scrap dealer it certainly irritates him. But they don’t argue with me as they understand it is a part of the business. However they do indulge in creating problems for me.  
Full of problems, unending debt, deception and exploitation - life of wastepickers is abysmally hopeless. Ashabai, being one of them, is trying to bring some light to their lives.
Photo – Parikshit Suryavanshi
HOW WAS YOUR DAILY ROUTINE AS A WASTEPICKER?
I would get up at half past three or four, prepare food for the entire family and leave for collection by five in the morning. Collect waste till one in the afternoon. Then come to the scrap dealer where the sorting took us at least three hours. Thus I could return home only after 12 hours at around five pm, after which I had to do household works like preparing food, cleaning vessels, washing clothes etc. I couldn’t sleep before 10 at night. Every wastepicker woman lives almost the same routine.
HOW DID YOU COME IN CONTACT WITH CRT?
I used to collect waste in Sindhi colony of Aurangabad but couldn’t go for sometime due to illness. One day I went and I saw Natasha Zarine and Gauri Mirashi of CRT, they were working on a solid waste management project there. They told me not to collect waste in that area. Their assumption was wastepickers scatter the waste. They had also appointed two wastepicker women to collect waste directly from the households however they were collecting only quality plastic that can fetch better price and leaving plastic bags behind.
I argued with Natasha and Gauri that I collect waste from this area for several years and they could not expel me like this. They agreed to let me collect in the other part of the same colony. When they saw my work they liked it. We got to know each other, and they accommodated me in their work. Now I accompany them in every new area they start a project. Usually the wastepickers don’t listen to anybody and just do what they want however when they see me as one of them and how I made my progress they are convinced. I responsibility is to teach them how to collect all dry waste material and keep the surroundings clean.
IS CRT HELPING OTHER WASTEPICKERS TOO?
Yes. CRT’s work is a great help. In Waluj, an industrial suburb of Aurangabad, CRT has implemented a solid waste management project wherein dry and wet wastes are segregated at source and collected differently. Wet waste is composted and dry waste is brought to my shop, the second one, started with the help of CRT. There are 40 contracted wastepickers and sanitary workers. Earlier they were given 3000 rupees per month that too not on time, now, after implementation of the project they receive Rs.6000 per month in hand and Rs.1700 towards Provident Fund. The money generated from dry waste is also distributed among them. CRT has made all these arrangements.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO FOR THE WASTEPICKERS?
Quality of life of wastepickers can be improved if they get the full remuneration for their waste collection. This is possible if their debts are paid and they are freed from the clutches of the fraud scrap dealers. For this, I will have to expand my business and pay their debts. There are seven to eight thousand wastepickers in the city I want to set free as many as possible.
If I receive financial help from an organisation or an individual and if I can free at least 50 women my work will start. Loan taken for paying their debt can be paid in a year and more women can be released.
I need a piece of land to expand my business. There are many such unused sites belonging to the corporation of Aurangabad. If corporation gives me one such piece of land to operate it can help in the welfare of the wastepickers.
Ashabai’s emphasis is on expanding her own business and thereby uplifting her wastepicker sisters by involving them into it.
 Photo – Parikshit Suryavanshi
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FROM THE GOVERNMENT AND THE SOCIETY?
I request from the depth of my heart to the government to ban the sale of liquor. At every nook and corner of a slum area there is a liquor shop. The children of poor are easily getting addicted. Husbands harass their wives, take away their hard earned money and waste it on drinking. It has destroyed and is destroying innumerable poor families. Stern steps must be taken to stop this havoc.  
Second thing, we don’t want our children to be wastepickers. They must be educated. Life conditions of wastepickers are so bad that they can’t even think of educating their children. The abject poverty bound their children to accompany them to the field. Thus they are thrown into this business from their very childhood.
The dirty look of some people towards a wastepicker woman and false allegations of theft are also important concerns.
Frequent illness is also a major cause of misery. People throw unhygienic waste into the garbage. It hurts them. Such wastes should be disposed of in a scientific manner. Government should provide free and quality health services to this lowest stratum of the society.
Government needs to do a proper survey of wastepickers in the city. Today fake wastepickers usurp benefits of the government schemes meant for wastepickers.
KINDLY TELL US SOME OF THE MOST MEMORABLE INCIDENTS FROM YOUR LIFE?
Once an eighteen year old boy attempted to rape a seven year old girl of a wastepicker woman. Her parents went to the police station. The authorities, instead of filing an FIR took their complaint on a blank paper. They made no enquiries and no arrests. When I came to know of the incident I gathered some women and went them to the police station. We insisted that the FIR should be registered and the boy must be arrested. If he is absconding his parents must be arrested or else we will sit on “Dharana”. The police then agreed to our demands and arrested the boy. Now the case is going on in the court. The girl’s parent felt intimidated and thought of leaving the place but we assured them that our organization will stand behind them. They felt secure with this support.
In another incident a wastepicker sister died in a blast that took place in a waste pile. No attention was paid by government in this matter. We, through our organization went to see the collector and got an aid of Rs.30,000 for her family. I feel sad that we could do only this little for her and the culprits remained unpunished.
Some people make false allegations of thievery on wastepickers. The organization immediately intervenes and the false allegations are taken back which otherwise could turn into lot of harassment. Such is the pressure of the organization.
All these memories are painful as well as satisfying. Painful because I see my wastepicker sisters suffering a lot and satisfying in the sense that I could at least do something for them.
HOW WERE YOU INVITED TO UNFCCC CoP21 AT PARIS? WHY YOU COULDN’T GO? HOW DID YOU FEEL?
Natasha Zarine of CRT gave a presentation at a conference organized by Alliance of Indian Wastepickers (AIW) in Hyderabad. There she told my story of becoming an entrepreneur from a wastepicker. The AIW people were quite impressed. They applied to UNFCCC CoP21 through Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCC) for my participation. Thus I was selected and invited to talk on my life struggle, sustainable and equitable solid waste management solutions and a cleaner, better and equitable world for all.
I couldn’t get my visa to go to Paris. Its reasons are yet unknown to me. However we tried our best till the last moment. We were greatly shocked due to the cancellation of my journey. We felt sorry. I was to represent the people who are most affected by climate change. Sadly I couldn’t take their voice to the world.
Parikshit Suryavanshi

suryavanshipd@gmail.com
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First published in The Hindu's Bussiness Line Ink :


बुधवार, ४ नोव्हेंबर, २०१५

Leopards In The City

To get this image was a long cherished wish of Nikit. The iconic photograph received immense fame as the ‘Leopard of Mumbai’ in media. It was named as “Big Daddy” due to its muscular built. 

Nikit Surve, a Mumbai resident, as part of his masters degree at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, undertook a research project on leopards (Panthera pardus fusca) in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai, in collaboration with the Maharashtra Forest Department. The research covering a total area of roughly 140 sq km found 35 leopards in and around the park including the Aarey colony, i. e. a density of 22 leopards/100 sq.km plus or minus 5.

The study also found a healthy presence of common Langur, bonnet Macaque, chital and sambar which constitute the wild prey base of leopards. Dogs on the periphery of SGNP which form a substantial part (24.46%) of the leopards diet were found to be present at a density of 17-18/sq.km.

Food habits of leopards were studied by conducting dietary analysis using leopard scat. The study suggests that the leopards are dependent on both wild as well as domestic prey in the study area. Leopards can share spaces with humans even amidst urban environs as long as prey population (both domestic and wild) remain sufficient and their habitat is protected. Not a single attack on humans was reported during the study period despite leopard visitations in the surrounding areas.

Here, Nikit Surve, a young wildlife biologist shares with us his wonderful experiences with the miraculous wildlife of SGNP and incredible facts about leopards that manage to thrive in the heart of the densely populated Mumbai!

Stray dog in the peripheral area of SGNP.
Wild prey contributed to 57% of leopard’s diet whereas domestic prey forms 43%. Dogs alone contributed to 24.46 %*.

HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO STUDY WILDLIFE?
I was interested in wildlife since my childhood, I would enjoy watching sparrows or even street dogs. Going to the zoo was always the most exciting vacation activity. I was lucky to have got the right mentors at the right time, starting from my mother to my relatives, my school and college teachers who always supported and encouraged me.

HOW WAS THE EXPERIENCE OF WORKING WITH THE FOREST DEPARTMENT
This was a collaborative project, with the Forest Department having an equal contribution. We had a number of workshops in which I trained beat guards on conducting line transects, camera trapping, on installing, switching on and off the camera etc. The forest staff was always with me on field. We used to set up 10-15 cameras at a time. I would make one beat guard responsible for one camera location. I visited each location every two-three days, I would go with someone in the morning and someone else in the evening to make them feel they are not alone. This is how we worked. It was a wonderful experience to work with them, I learnt a lot from them. Van majurs are the ground staff and we rarely interact with them but believe me there is a lot to learn from them. I thank them for sharing every bit of information they had and for accepting me as part of their group. At the end of a hard day’s work we would sit down to wonderful food they had cooked.

Setting camera traps is also an arduous task. Nikit needed help to do it. 

ON ONE HAND A LEOPARD TRIES ITS BEST TO AVOID HUMANS AND ON THE OTHER IT COMES INTO HUMAN DOMINATED AREAS FOR PREY?
The leopard doesnt avoid coming into human-dominated areas, it avoids detection by humans. It knows exactly when is the right time to show up, do its job and not get detected. Leopards have been living in close proximity of humans and they have adapted well to survive with them without being detected. And the answer is pretty simple; the leopard comes into human dominated areas for easy and abundantprey.

HOW DID YOU DECIDE THE LOCATIONS OF THE CAMERA TRAPS?
We had to rely on indirect evidences such as scat, pugmarks, scrapes etc. In the initial months of December and January we only walked, walking one or two forest beats daily. Equally important, local people knew very well the paths leopards used, where they drank water etc. Once we knew the leopardstrails, we selected locations from where camera traps would not be easily stolen.

Setting camera needs special training. Many things like perfect height from the ground, angles of opposite cameras, animal’s paths, water bodies etc. are taken into account.  

THIS MUST HAVE NEEDED YOU TO WIN THE CONFIDENCE OF THE LOCAL PEOPLE.
Of course, local peoples support was absolutely necessary. Beat guards and Van majurs were my companions in this project. We would walk together, eat together and do our work of searching for indirect evidences together. It helped strengthen our bonds. Also all the leopards we got pictures of, we named them after discussion with the locals. They would often refer to these leopards as “our leopards”.

NAMING LEOPARDS? SEEMS INTERESTING! PLEASE GIVE US SOME EXAMPLES.
CHANDANI (MOONLIGHT): Chandani was captured by a camera placed next to a house occupied by a grandmother. Post field work, I would sit in her verandah, gossip with her, show her the images. She would say that tribals believed that Leopards roam on starry nights, so on these nights we should not move out(starry night signified no moon night/Amavas).

Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) is an astonishingly adaptive species. It can even survive on rodents in desperate times.

BHOOTYA (THE GHOST): We put two cameras opposite each other to capture both flanks. This leopard would get captured in one camera and not in the other! This happened two-three times so we named it Bhootya!

Leopards of SGNP are learning the art of living with humans! In recent time significant reduction in conflict has been noted. 

MASTIKHOR (MISCHIEF MAKER): On his very first encounter with the camera this leopard brought the camera down. When I looked at the images closely I noticed that this leopard is looking at the camera. Most probably the very next moment he must have gone there and slapped the camera.  We named it Mastikhor.

Mastikhor 
On its very first encounter with the camera this leopard played with it and tried to bring it down. So it was called Mastikhor – the mischief maker!

Wild pig of SGNP
This is another ‘not-so-friendly with camera’ individual. The research team found the camera fallen on the ground as the wild boar had hit it.

HOW DO YOU INDENTIFY INDIVIDUAL LEOPARDS?
At the finalized location we set two camera traps opposite to each other to get both flank images of the leopards. These cameras face each other but at a slight angular difference to avoid both the cameras getting triggered at the same time. Every leopard has a unique rosette pattern. This rosette pattern is different on the left and right flank, just as our fingerprints of the left-hand don't match with that of the right. Hence it is important to get images of the both flanks. Once we get the leopard images we compare each image with all other images based on the rosette pattern.

Individual leopard identification
Each leopard has a unique rosette pattern just as each human has a unique fingerprint.
Three unique individuals (a,b,c) identified based on their unique rosette pattern.

HOW DID YOU COUNT LEOPARDS TO AN EXACT FIGURE OF 35?
The number is 35 plus or minus 1. It has been done using a scientific method which is difficult to explain here due to its technical nature. We used Mark Capture Recapture method (Spatially Explicit Capture Recapture model). Lets say, there is a pond with fish. We put a net into the pond, catch some fish, mark and release them into the pond. We again catch some fish using the net. This time we will have some marked and some unmarked fish. Based on the recapture probability we calculate the total number of fish.

In case of leopards, we use their unique individual rosette pattern as a mark and use the same method with the help of camera trap images. Information thus received is transformed into a statistical format and fed into a software. Once we feed all data the software does the calculations and analysis. Thus it gave us a number of 35 with a standard error of 0.5. (plus or minus 0.5). We got 88 images of leopards in all. 

Nikit, washing leopard scat under running water. 
Diet analysis was conducted using undigested material from leopard scats like hair, nails and claws.

YOUR MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES DURING YOUR FIELD WORK!
I never saw a leopard when I went looking for it. I only saw them thrice during my entire study but I am pretty sure they must have seen me on many occasions. Simple reason behind this is that the leopard is a master of camouflage and knows very well how to avoid humans. Once while walking on the plateau above Kanheri caves we spotted a leopard at a distance, what an amazing scene it was! It looked nothing larger than a crow but we could see a beautiful silhouette against the backdrop of the setting sun. I can never forget that sighting.

ANY OTHER MOVING EXPERIENCES FROM THIS PROJECT?
One of my field assistants, a Van majur worked in the forest department nursery. During the project he arrived daily at 5 am and left only around 8 pm. When I asked him why he was working so hard he said, I love to go into jungle. I am so happy to have this opportunity, otherwise I would have remained at the nursery only. Even the sight of a monkey would excite him. He was married and had two children, his earnings barely made ends meet, however he was not worried about the future and worked with great passion and dedication. Here, I feel it is important to recognize people, let them follow their passion and they will do wonderful work. He will always inspire me.

PLEASE SHARE SOME OF THE STORIES BEHIND YOUR FAVOURITE IMAGES
There are two-three images with interesting stories.

CITY BEHIND LEOPARD (THE BIG DADDY): In 2012, while volunteering on the project, “Mumbaikars for SGNP”, I was responsible for a camera trap located at higher ground. I would imagine that one day I will capture an iconic image in which the sprawling city will be seen behind a leopard. When time came to do my own project I selected that location as I knew that path was used by a leopard. It was summer, and a fire had burnt a sort of window with grass on both sides. After 2-3 days of setting up the camera I got that image of my dreams.  I was thrilled beyond words. This image has become the iconic image for Leopards of Mumbai
He is a big muscular male, we called him “Big Daddy”.


This is another image of Big Daddy roaming at night time. The luminous city behind it makes a perfect background for the uncrowned king of SGNP.

THE FLYING LEOPARD: Some animals are camera-shy. When this leopard came near, one of the cameras flashed, the leopard was terrified and as it ran away the second camera captured it with three legs in the air! We named him Bhitryameaning timid in Marathi.

The Flying Leopard –Bhitrya (timid). 
This is a camera-shy leopard. It ran away when a camera flashed to take its photo. Its timidity gave it a name – Bhitrya meaning timid in Marathi!

HOW WAS YOUR REPORT RECEIVED BY THE FOREST DEPARTMENT, MEDIA AND PUBLIC?
Everyone received it positively. The forest department was happy with it as we had a baseline data ready on leopards and their prey for future monitoring. Earlier the leopard was reported negatively in media as dangerous, man eater, dog slayer etc. accompanied with snarling ferocious pictures. But after this report, at least for a whole week, a number of good articles with beautiful pictures of leopards were published in the media. I thank the media for the same. This positive publicity is good for the conservation of leopards.

HOW DO YOU THINK THIS STUDY WILL HELP BETTER CONSERVATION AND MANAGEMENT OF LEOPARDS OF SGNP?
This data serves as the baseline data on the leopard and prey population of SGNP and hence will help in further monitoring and comparisons of populations. This study also involved a lot of forest department staff, this helps in capacity building. Further monitoring will help us know about the leopard movement inside as well as outside the park.


Wildlife of SGNP
Jungle cat with kittens
A cat family quite at home in SGNP.
A Palm civet
Small Indian civet
SGNP, a fascinating park in a city heart holds incredible variety of wildlife.
Sambar deer with a good density of 6-8/km2 in SGNP is one of the wild preys of the leopard. 

WHAT WILDLIFE ISSUES ARE YOU PLANNING TO WORK ON IN THE FUTURE?
Studying human wildlife interactions and working towards resolving the negative ones. We need to learn to share spaces with wildlife as they are already doing their bit.

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Although the frequency of occurrence of dogs was shown to be highest among all other prey species we cannot conclude about the contribution of dogs in leopard’s diet. The reason for this being, frequencies of the identifiable prey remains in the scat do not tell us about the actual proportion of prey type eaten. This is more so when the prey items vary in size to a considerable degree. Smaller prey species have more undigested material (hair) due to higher body surface to mass ratio.
The percentage contribution reported is in terms of relative biomass consumed.

Ref. ECOLOGY OF LEOPARD IN SANJAY GANDHI NATIONAL PARK, MAHARASHTRA WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO ITS ABUNDANCE, PREY SELECTION AND FOOD HABITS

A report by
Nikit Surve under the supervision of Dr. S. Sathyakumar, Dr. K. Sankar, Dr. Vidya Athreya

Interviewed by Parikshit Suryavanshi
First Published : in The Hindu Business Line's BLink :
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