The leopard rescue team from Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) has been effectively managing increasing human-animal conflict situations including rescuing leopards that enter human-dominated habitat. However, the team faces one of the biggest challenges —absence of insurance despite several assurances by the Forest department.Case in point is the recent incident when a leopard had to be rescued in the Sher-e-Punjab area in Andheri east. The Thane rescue team was the first to reach the site. The leopard was tranquilised by the leopard rescue team from SGNP, which was on its way back from Chalisgaon where it had helped capture a leopard suspected of killing seven people.Both the leopard rescue teams have eight to ten members. Most of these members work on a contract basis called forest labourers (van majoor). While the forest officers are covered under the Government Insurance Scheme (GIS) the contract labourers who earn less than Rs 10,000 a month as wages have no insurance nor any benefits in case of an injury or death during rescue operations.”We do not let our work suffer and rush for any leopard rescue. We ensure that neither any human nor the leopard is harmed during a conflict situation. It feels sad that even the forest department doesn’t think about the work we do and the risk we take. Despite several assurances we are still awaiting the insurance scheme promised to us, which could help us or our families in case of an eventuality,” said a member from the rescue team who is on a contract basis.According to Pawan Sharma, honorary wildlife warden of Thane, a dialogue with a few insurance companies and agents was initiated five months back, and they were ready to provide insurance cover.
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