The Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) is an example of one of the least represented biogeographic zones; the Malabar Coast of the Western Ghats which forms only 0.4% of the Protected Area network. The official area of the park has expanded by five times since pre-Independence era and presently covers a little over 103 sq.km, housing many rare, threatened and beautiful species such as the Atlas moth, Karvy (plant that flowers every eight years) and the leopard. At one point SGNP was home to a sizeable population of tigers and there are old reports of their presence in Malabar hill. The last tiger seen in SGNP was in 2003 after a gap of several decades.
It is a known fact that preservation of this moist deciduous forest is also crucial for Mumbai to meet the water consumption needs of its citizens. Owing to its ‘National Park’ status, harvest of forest produce was abated in 1990s and since then strict legal protection has been bestowed upon this ‘green oasis’. Apart from its ecological value, the Park is a site of archaeological importance because of the presence of Kanheri caves which represent a rare fragment of Buddhist history. It is believed that the ancient forests (and caves) of SGNP are atleast 2400 years old, previously constituting the trading route that connected India to civilizations in Greece and Mesopotamia.
Traditionally, tribes such as Warlis and Mahadeo Kolis have inhabited the landscape but in recent times there has been an incursion by other tribes and non-tribal communities in and around SGNP, which has put immense pressure on its resources. Over 1 million people are said to reside on the outskirts of SGNP. The Park also holds cultural significance for devotees who worship deities located inside its official perimeter, albeit in an irresponsible manner (by creating waste and aggravating noise pollution). SGNP experiences over 2 million visitors each year mostly comprising joggers, nature lovers and devotees. The burgeoning human population and consequent habitat loss threaten to erase the largest remnant of Mumbai’s natural heritage causing greater negative interactions between people and wildlife much to the detriment of stakeholders that depend on / utilise its ecosystem services.
It is, however, the only ‘city forest’ of its kind benefitting diverse groups of people. This is especially true of the tribes which depend on this forest and exude immense respect towards its wildlife. For example, some of the tribes worship large cats and there are local beliefs about not harming this animal as it would invite bad luck. This has perhaps influenced the tolerance levels of communities that have lived in close quarters with wildlife but have still managed to ensure the survival of a large cat like the leopard in the concrete jungle of this metropolis.
SGNP Management Plan 2000-2010