A collaborative initiative between citizens, wildlife researchers and the forest department is monitoring and collecting data on wildlife, particularly leopards, in Aarey Milk Colony in Mumbai, Maharashtra.The tracking efforts are important to build an understanding of the predators in the populated urban space and develop peaceful coexistence between leopards and humans sharing the same space.Aarey Milk Colony has been in the limelight as the controversial site for a metro car shed. The Environmental Impact Assessment report for the project states that no wildlife is found at the site of the project, a claim that can be challenged with the visuals collected by the team and sightings reported by residents. The Waghoba temple in Mumbai’s Aarey Milk Colony houses an idol of a big cat. Resembling a tiger, the idol is worshipped by tribal communities living in the area. A few metres away, a new statue is set to be inaugurated in Aarey – that of a leopard – in reverence of the feline residents that the locals share their space with, in the 13 square km Aarey Milk Colony. The leopard population in Aarey Milk Colony (AMC) is small and often studied together with the leopards in the bordering Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) which has one of the highest density of leopards in the world. But with Aarey now a proposed site for a metro project, the wildlife of AMC specifically, is in focus. The green patch in the midst of urban Mumbai’s western suburbs is identified for a metro car shed for the Mumbai Metro Rail Corridor line from Colaba to SEEPZ (Special Electronics Export Processing Zone) in the Andheri East area, which runs between south and north Mumbai. The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report 2012 for the proposed metro project in Aarey stated “no wildlife has been observed at project site”. But camera traps show otherwise. Waghoba, an animal deity is worshipped by the tribal communities inside Aarey Milk Colony and Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Photo by Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay. A group of researchers and wildlife enthusiasts, in collaboration with the forest department, has diligently been recording data of wildlife, including the elusive predators that have made Aarey their home. In Aarey, at any given time there are about four to five adult leopards, including a transient population that moves between Aarey and SGNP. Four adult females, Adarsh Nagar, Bindu, Chandani and Luna have been regularly showing up in data recorded over various periods since this specific monitoring activity began in Aarey in 2015. The initiative is led by a mixed group consisting of wildlife biologist Nikit Surve, honorary wildlife warden Mayur Kamath, journalist Ranjeet Jadhav, researcher Rajesh Sanap and team members Imran Udat, Kaushal Dubey, Prabhu Swami, Hitendra Pachkale, Sudam Nawale, Kunal Chaudhary, Satish Lot and Shahid. Some of the members were familiar with awareness programs through their former work with “Mumbaikars for SGNP”, a forest department and citizen initiative to deal with human and leopard interaction in the neighbouring national park. “We work in collaboration with the citizens and researchers for monitoring the leopards in Aarey,” said Jitendra Ramgaonkar, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Thane, highlighting the success of the model where citizens and the government have been working together for conservation. “We provide equipment, some labour and our staff is already stationed in the area. The ultimate goal of this partnership is to create a peaceful coexistence of leopards and humans and change the perception towards the often misunderstood predators.” A view of the 13 square km Aarey Milk Colony and the urban jungle of suburban Mumbai. Aarey hosts a variety of biodiversity including leopards and comes in the ecosensitive zone of Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) but it is not notified as a forest. Photo by Rajesh Sanap. The Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), is listed in Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, providing it the highest level of legal protection. Leopard falls under the near threatened category of IUCN (IUCN 2014) and remains in the Appendix 1 of CITES. “Leopards are among the most adaptable species of cats and are found everywhere. They are comfortable in close proximity with humans,” said Dr. Vidya Athreya, scientist at Wildlife Conservation Society India and expert in human-leopard interaction, emphasising that leopards living in close quarters with humans is a common occurrence. Adarsh Nagar, the leopard who “doesn’t give a damn” Adarsh Nagar, named after a locality in Mumbai which she frequented, was observed in Aarey for close to four months between 2012 and 2013. While leopards usually prefer to stay hidden, Adarsh Nagar was “quite a bold” leopard, according to Rajesh Sanap, a researcher with the team. “There was a time when a team from BBC was visiting Aarey to get some footage for a documentary on leopards. Adarsh Nagar walked on the road for hours while the crew followed her, filming her,” he said. A female leopard, Adarsh Nagar, named after the area it frequently visited, walks on a path used by locals in Aarey. Photo by Sunny Patil. A crowd gathers on the side of a road in Aarey to see Adarsh Nagar comfortably sitting amongst the thicket. Rajesh Sanap, one of the members of the team monitoring the leopards, observed that Adarsh Nagar didn’t usually mind human presence and attention. Photos by Rajesh Sanap. Most leopards are okay with the presence of humans, as long as they have spaces to go into hiding, said Sanap. This is significant in the wake of upcoming infrastructure projects in the area. Leopards are likely to be comfortable coexisting with people that the projects bring in. But the absence of natural cover is what could drive leopards into human-occupied spaces and create chances of conflict. Sanap narrated an instance of an abandoned industrial plot in Marol, a busy part of north Mumbai, where a leopard lived for an entire week. “The leopard had no problem being near humans, as long as it had its own space,” he said. “Leopards are active animals, they can live anywhere. The problem will come once the green spaces begin to disappear and there is no space to hide.” “There are tribal communities, new housing societies and Film City in and around Aarey. And there are leopards. We can’t remove any of them from the area. Our efforts are to work towards coexistence,” added Ramgaonkar. The Thane Forest Department has control over forest related issues and wildlife cases in the area, but Aarey specifically is not a notified forest and is under the administrative jurisdiction of the dairy department. Aarey however, comes within an ecosensitive zone around SGNP, identified by the government in 2016.