Mumbai: On the hunt for cats of Sanjay Gandhi National Park

By  Ranjeet Jadhav | Posted  16-Apr-2017

Two wildlife researchers are set to undertake a two-year-long study to understand the habitat, movement, lifestyle and food preferences of small cats at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park

While the jungle cat. Pics/Shomita Mukherjee, Nayan Khanolkar
While the jungle cat and rusty spotted cat (below) are among the small cats found in SGNP, there is little information available on them. Pics/Sarosh Lodhi, Nayan Khanolkar

Starting next week, the small cats of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) will be under the watchful gaze of two wildlife researchers for the next two years.

Nayan Khanolkar, who last year, won BBC’s best wildlife photographer of the year award in the urban category, will be assisting principal investigator and small cat expert Dr Shomita Mukherjee of Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History- (SACON) Coimbatore. Together, the duo will be studying the animal’s habitat, its movement, lifestyle and food preferences.

rusty spotted cat are among the small cats found in SGNP, there is little information available on them

Two-phase project
Confirming the development, Anwar Ahmed, field director and chief conservator of forest of SGNP, said, "The actual work on the small cat project will begin in a week’s time. The main objective of the project is to study the distribution of small cats in SGNP and the adjacent areas. The project will help us understand their habitat requirements in and around the park. Through molecular analysis of scat, we will also be able to determine the diet of various species of small cats."

The project will be divided into two phases. Researchers and volunteers will be taking the help of cameras installed across the park to carry out their research. In the first phase, the researchers will gauge the distribution of the cats around the park and what they eat. "We will use molecular scat analysis to assign the scat to the cats, which species the scat belongs to," Mukherjee said. In the second phase, they will dwell deeper into preferences, quantification and ecology of the animal. "For instance, we will measure how many rodents they eat, especially in agricultural fields and around villages," she added.

While the jungle cat and the (right) Wildlife photographer Nayan Khanolkar and his team will be installing cameras across the park to study the leopards
While the jungle cat and the (right) Wildlife photographer Nayan Khanolkar and his team will be installing cameras across the park to study the leopards  

Neglected species
Currently, the jungle cat and the elusive rusty spotted cat are among the small cats found in the national park. However, there is little information on them. "The small cats from SGNP are one of the most neglected species. This study will throw up some interesting material on them," the photographer added.

The researchers are confident that the project will help provide valuable information that can be used to safeguard the habitat of the small cats.

"The areas including Film City and Aarey Milk Colony, which has a rich biodiversity and acts as a buffer zone to SGNP, will also be studied. The project will help create awareness programmes and monitor protocols for small cats in human-dominated landscapes in this region," Khanolkar said.

Points to be probed 

  • Which species occur?
  • Where do they occur?
  • What do they eat?
  • Are their populations stable?
  • What are the threats?
  • Is there a need for management interve-ntions such as captive breeding, reintroduction?
  • Can we conserve them?