Tuesday, 30 December 2014

NEWSLINK: The leopards of Mumbai: life and death among the city's 'living ghosts'

India’s second city is home to an estimated 20 million people ... and 21 leopards. The 250,000 residents with homes inside the boundary of Sanjay Gandhi national park must find a way to live with their big-cat neighbours

Elizabeth Soumya in Mumbai

Wednesday 26 November 2014 09.45 GMT

Hawa hawa oh hawa … a 90s Hindi hit blares from the radio in Kusum’s mud house. “I play music till 1am every day,” says the elderly lady. She says she is not much of a music fan - but her loud playlist keeps the leopards away. Meanwhile, just down the road, 35-year-old Dilip Changverlekar recently renovated the house where his family has lived for generations. He added tin sheets to the roof and walls to make it difficult for leopards to climb.

Mumbai is India’s richest city and home to a human population of around 20 million, but it also contains one of the largest protected urban forests in the world. The Sanjay Gandhi national park (SGNP) spans 104 sq km - the size of 30 Central Parks - and is home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals. Here in Chuna Pada, a tribal hamlet of 40 houses inside the park’s boundary, seeing a leopard is not a scandal but a routine, and residents receive a visit from the big cats several times a week.

In 2012 a forest camera-trap counted as many as 21 leopards in the park, and footage of the big cats in the slums, residential complexes and schools of urban Mumbai has shaped what many think of SGNP’s leopards. It has also given the impression that the creatures are entering the city more often than ever before. But are there really more leopards?

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