Written byBenita Chacko
| Mumbai |
Snowy Baptista was settling on a machan when she spotted them — a herd of deer. Just as the sun was setting over the horizon, six of them came to drink water from a watering hole nearby. Baptista was one of the volunteers who had signed up for the animal census at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) on Monday. Like her, around 100 volunteers had taken up position on 43 machans in different parts of the park on the full moon night to count the different species of animals in the park. “It was a wonderful experience to watch the animals come to the watering hole. We were in the ‘recreation’ area and not many animals are found there. But we saw deer, wild boars and several birds. We also sensed the presence of a leopard nearby but couldn’t see it,” said Baptista, a member of Mumbaikars for SGNP.
Every year, volunteers are invited to participate in the census on Buddha Purnima. Since it is believed to be the brightest night of the year, it is easier to spot animals. “Also as it is summer many animals come to the watering hole,” Baptista added. After registration volunteers are allotted partners and machans by a lottery system. The volunteers gather at the park by afternoon and are sent to their locations with food and water by 3 pm. “They have to sit through the night without making any noise so that the animals are not disturbed. We conduct a lottery to ensure no two friends are together,” said Shailesh Deore, Range Forest Officer, Tulsi Range.
The machans, made of tree branches and concealed by leaves, are set up at least 15-20 days in advance so that the animals get used to their sight. “The machans have to be built every year as they decay over time,” said Radesh Hadge, a forest guard. “We silently waited for the animals to appear and then peeped through leaves to spot them. It was exciting. Animals have a strong sense of smell and could sense our presence, they were very cautious,” said Vivek Raut, a nature enthusiast. For many this was the first animal census where they spotted a leopard. “I have been participating in the census for the last eight years but I could never spot a leopard. This year I spotted one for the first time,” said Shivani Kolge.
For those who could not spot any animal the view under the bright moon was rewarding enough. Vimal Jagatiya, a Borivali resident, who was at Gaimukh, situated at a higher elevation, said, “I visit the park every morning for jogging but today I could see the park at night as well. We sat on the roof of a temple and could see a large part of the city from there.” The census report for this year shows a slight dip in numbers from last year. However, it does not provide scientific data and only gives a rough estimate of the species present inside the park. For the volunteers it gives a golden opportunity to watch these animals closely.
“The numbers help us in better wildlife management as we know what animals are present in the park and what we need to provide for them,” said Deore. Assistant Conservator of Forests Mohan Naikwadi said, “The dip in numbers could be because of last year’s abundant rainfall. Many areas of the park still have water and the animals do not need to come to the watering holes.”
In the census this year 671 animals were spotted by the volunteers in four parts of the park – Tulsi Range, Krushnanagiri, Yeour and Tungareshwar. This is a drastic dip from last year’s count of 1,061. However, there has been an increase in the number of leopards as compared last year. While only seven were spotted last year, this year 10 were seen. The most spotted animal this year was the Chital at 295 while only one snake was spotted by the volunteers.
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