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Mumbai: Where did the ‘mystery’ leopard, rescued at Mulund, come from?

The mystery over whether the male leopard, which entered Nanepada, in Mulund (east) on Saturday was from Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) or Aarey colony seems to have become another mystery now.

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The mystery over whether the male leopard, which entered Nanepada, in Mulund (east) on Saturday was from Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) or Aarey colony seems to have become another mystery now.

Wildlife biologists trying to identify this leopard with images of various leopards from the forest department's database whose images were captured at SGNP, Aarey as well as Tungareshwar during camera trapping study in 2011, 2015 as well as 2017 found out that there was no match.

“Its surprising that this leopard did not match with any of the leopards including the 21 identified in 2011, 35 identified in 2015 as well as the 41 leopards identified in 2017 from the database. It suggests that either this is a 'new' animal whose image was never captured despite such extensive camera trapping work or there is a possibility that this big cat has been living outside the forest area all this while,” said Nikit Surve, Wildlife biologist from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) India who has been conducting research on leopards in Mumbai and was trying to identify the male leopard from Mulund.

Surve said the capture of the Mulund leopard, pictures of both its flanks were taken. “Leopards are matched on basis of their rosette patterns (spots) which are like human fingerprints. A particular area mostly on the stomach side is selected and then we look minutely at the designs and patterns of the spots present and keep identifying the unique design trying to match it with the images of other individual leopards thus identifying similar individuals,” he said.

Pune based expert on leopards, Dr Vidya Athreya said that there was so much that we are still not aware about these leopards making it difficult to pinpoint a lot of things about them. “The detailed scientific study of leopards being carried out since 2011 has provided so much information and has helped us with a database. But this case highlights the fact that a lot more study is required including intensive camera trappings at locations outside the forest and protected areas as these could be easily living in abandoned structures near forested patches,” she said.

A forest official said that this leopard has now left everyone surprised as its difficult to believe that this leopard might have escaped such extensive camera trapping exercises since 2011. “Nanepada is flanked by mangroves on one side and SGNP on other and both are far away so it could be possible that the leopard has been staying close to some patches near Kanjurmarg area as there was not only a report of leopard being seen in an industrial area in Kanjurmarg in 2011 but also a leopard was spotted on eastern express highway near Mulund on January 11 two days before the Nanepada incident,” he said.

Currently, the leopard has been kept captive inside SGNP and a decision on its release is likely to be taken soon.

 

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