-Purvaja & Ankita Mishra
Dr. Shailesh pethe Asst. Commissioner of AH State Govt of Maharashtra,veterinary officer of Sanjay Gandhi National Park has been looking after the wildlife and captive animals of SGNP for last 15 years. Wild animals such as 35 leopards, 3000 deer & 1000 monkeys whereas Captive animals such as 7 Tigers, 3 Lions, 14 Leopards, 32 Deers, 1 Vulture,4 Peacock has been flourishing under the guidance of Dr. Pethe. SGNP is a unique wildlife park in the world which is spread for 103 sqr km. The park is one of a kind in the world which is situated in between of two metro cities.
In an exclusive interview with India Unbound, Dr. Pethe shared with us the importance of Forest for Human beings and for the city. He also shared the challenges he faces as a Veterinary Office of SGNP and what it takes to be a good vet. He explained that the protection of environment and animals is not the sole responsibility of Forest department while it is also of every citizen of the nation.
Tell me about yourself where you were born and brought up?
I was born and brought up in Mumbai itself, Borivali is my hometown and it is where I did my schooling. I used to visit SGNP a lot and always found it marvellous. Later on, I studied to be a vet
How did you get started as a vet?
I always wanted to be a veterinarian right from my school days. It was decided from my part and after completing my school & college education, I joined Bombay veterinarian college in Mumbai to complete my dream as there was no other ambition for me.
There has been a gradual decrease in the population of animals in SGNP. Are there any plans to increase the population of animals of SGNP?
On the contrary, I don’t see any decrease in population of National Park’s animals while animals here have been quite flourishing. In near future, we are going to import some captive animals from other national parks of India to increase the population of captive animals of SGNP.
What are the challenges you face as a doctor to protect animals of SGNP?
The biggest challenge we feel is due to urbanization happening around the Nation Park. As you know there are much tall building already built and some are under construction around SGNP. So these buildings are visible to the animals of SGNP and people who reside in such building can also see the animals of SGNP. Earlier the buildings were not that tall where they were visible to the animals, so this is the new challenge we are facing as Geo authorities.
SGNP is the only wildlife park in the nation which is situated in between two metro cities. Please comment.
You would be surprised to know that the population density around the SGNP is 29,000 per sqr km which is highest in the world whereas population density of the other 4 national parks which is in the urban cities is not more than 4,000 sqr km, so you can get an idea of population of people residing around national park.
What do you think how the forest is important for us and for the city?
Oxygen & water are the most important factor for the survival of human beings and SGNP has the reservior of the both. We have got more than 1,500 plant species and we have more than 150 animal species in SGNP. So we have a very wide range of biodiversity which contributes to the SGNP to be the Oxygen reservoir. There is 3 big attachments area of the Tulsi lake, Virar lake, and Powai lake, so these lakes gather rainwater during monsoon which supplies water to the people of Mumbai City.
What makes a good veterinarian?
Individually speaking a veterinarian work is all about hard work and observation. As a veterinarian, I think my animals are not giving me much time as compared to other doctors of the national park. So to be a good veterinarian you have to be a very keen observer and it also takes a lot of hard work.
What do you think a veterinarian’s role is in the community?
I think it is most important because of its a linkage factor in between the human and animal population. For example, a normal person consumes tea the first at the start of his day which includes milk produced from a Cow, that is coming indirectly from a veterinarian’s role because a vet takes care of the dairy industry so that you get fresh and healthy milk. So a veterinarian’s role starts from the morning itself and any food product which has an animal source is the result of a veterinarian’s role. So we take a lot of pride in the community.
Has there been any situation where you thought the animals of SGNP should be euthanized?
Because this is a wildlife park so the question euthanization of animals doesn’t even arise. As far as possible we see to it that even if there is 1 % chance of survival of animals we try our level best. But euthanizing the animals, I don’t think the questions arise.
From how long are you giving your efforts to this National Park? What is the most difficult situation you’ve been faced with since you got into veterinary? How did you handle it?
Situation wise I think the most difficult thing as a veterinarian of a nation park is when there is a man-animal conflict. Sometimes some wild animals escape the boundary of SGNP and get settled in between the local human settlements we have to rescue such animals. There is a chance that these escaped animals can injure a person and vice versa or the animal on its own can injure himself because of his behavior. So at that time, we have to be very careful to bring such animals back to National Park without any conflict in between the animals and human beings. It is the most challanging job for me as a veterinarian of SGNP.
Describe any previous experience. What did you like and dislike about it?
As I said some animals escape from the boundary of National Park, We have to carefully capture such animals and bring him back to his domain. When these animals are brought back to his domain and the way they run back to the jungle to his area is the most joyful moment for me. Whenever a human-animal conflict happens, some people say things like to kill such animals in the first place and all such things. I do not like such things as we shouldn’t be so greedy as we only want to take from nature rather than giving at least something back to nature.
What education or skills are needed to become a good veterinarian?
Education wise I think you first need to have is veterinary science degree and then you can go ahead with your choice of post-graduation. When you are practically working in the field, the 3 important points that you need is ( i ) Good education & database ( ii ) Good observation and (iii) Good interpretation.
How do you stay up to date in the field of veterinary medicine?
Updating myself is very beneficial and essential for the animals of our park. I update myself mostly from the internet, I have subscribed to various magazines from which I learn various new things. I’m also very grateful to the forest department which keeps sending me to various workshops and conference of wildlife medicine. Through this, I get the latest information, state of an art new techniques that have been developed regarding wildlife medicine.
Do you receive any kind of volunteer proposals?
Yes! I have received many volunteers from Bombay Veterinary College, basically, these are UG students who have a lot of interest and passion for working with wildlife. Whenever I do surgery or intervention with wildlife animals I call these students and even we have made an advisory board in which many faculties of College, previous doctors of SGNP are included, measures all together it really does help me in my work as it increases the input.
What measures are there in your concern to protect the decreasing forest land?
On the contrary, I don’t see any decrease in forest land of SGNP. The boundary of SGNP is well protected as we have made boundary walls for its protection. So there is no decrease any forest land and we see to it that there will be no decrease in the near future.
What are your future goals or further dreams?
My future goals are to make SGNP a world eco-tourism zone. We have the highest concentration of people residing around a Wildlife park in the world. These citizens of Thane and Mumbai deserves a place to go and enjoy their Holiday or to come in contact with nature. My dream and the dream of SGNP’s Management is to give them the best in the world eco-tourism and infotainment experience.
What do you think the measures that should be taken care for the protection of animals?
Protection of animals is not a job only for forest department, basically, it is the job of every citizen to protect the animals and environment as we all love animals and we just have to stretch our love & take care of animals. Mahatma Gandhi quoted a fantastic sentence that “Each society is known by the way they treat its animals” and we have to extend it to wildlife also.
What are your further future plans for protecting the animals in the national park?
SGNP is a unique urban forest where I feel all the animals are very much protected. In fact if you look at the figures of SGNP, there are 35 leopards in an area of 103 sqr km and herbivorous animal population is more than 2000 plus there is 35 types of Mammals, 70 different species of reptile. So the animals in SGNP are flourishing and the population concentration of animals we have in SGNP is the highest in India.
Why isn’t male and female animals are kept together so that population can increase?
There are basically two kinds of animals in SGNP one is Captive animals and the other is free-living animals. So the free-living animals like leopards etc are living in the open jungle itself so they have full freedom to do as they wish in the boundaries of SGNP. We have got captive population of 7 tigers & 3 lions and whenever we want or due to the animal’s behavior, we also do conservative breeding of these animals. Regarding the rescue centers, these animals are those caught during the man-animal conflict and we don’t want to multiply the problems. So we are not going ahead with the breeding of rescue center animals other than rescue center animals all the animals in SGNP are free to breed.
What is your review for any youth who wants to become a veterinarian?
I think that is the best choice he can do considering that veterinary science has got a bright future ahead. As most of the people now have started keeping pet animals either it can be Cat, Dog or any exotic animals and even the food products involving any animal source needs a good vet. Henceforth a vet will always be in demand.
As being an important part of this park what do you think should be implemented for betterment and development of this park?
We have already taken a lot of measures for the development of this park. Forest department, SGNP and the ministry of forest department plays a vital role for the betterment of the park. Last year we planted approx 2 crores plants all over Maharashtra and the current year’s target is going to be atleast 10 times more than the previous targets. We also started the Green Army volunteer website where more than 2 crores of people are going to get registered for volunteering to the government in taking care of the ecology and the environment. There are multiple such measures and these are only a few examples of it. So if you head to the website of forest department you can find everything crystal clear. Thus the forest department is going way ahead of its expected norms to take care of the environment and the ecology.