First leopard spotted during Asola sanctuary census
A leopard has been sighted in the Asola wildlife sanctuary, the first camera trap image of the animal captured as part of the ongoing leopard census being carried out by the Delhi forest department in the sanctuary area.
According to forest officials, the image was captured on August 30 at 6.09am, after which steps have been taken to secure the animal as well as the surrounding villages. “An alert has been sounded in nearby areas such as Sangam Vihar, Deoli and Tughalaqabad, among others, asking people to not trespass into the forest area. Also, they have been asked to not venture out late in the dark and keep children within the houses. Besides, regular patrolling along the fences has started to keep the animal secure,” Amit Anand, deputy conservator of forests (south division) said.
Anand said that though there have been secondary sightings over the past six months, meaning sounds of growling being heard or staff reporting movement of a big cat in the forest, the August 30 image was the first solid piece of evidence about the presence of leopards in the area.
The census, the first of its kind exercise in the Asola sanctuary, was launched in July this year. Leopard is one of the focal points of the census, said officials. The census is being carried out by the Delhi forest department along with the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS).
The Asola wildlife sanctuary is spread over an area of 32.71 sqkm on the southern Delhi Ridge of Aravalli range on the Delhi-Haryana border. Located in southern Delhi and northern parts of Faridabad and Gurugram districts of Haryana, the sanctuary is part of the Northern Aravalli leopard wildlife corridor, which extends from the Sariska National Park in Rajasthan to Delhi Ridge.
As part of the census, 30 camera traps have been installed across the sanctuary. “We plan to increase the number of camera traps in the area of the sighting. It will help us in further tracking the animal’s movement, prey base and his behaviour. So far, this is just one image that has been captured. We require much more data and photos to identify if the animal is a male or a female, and its movement across the wildlife corridor. At present, we don’t know exactly what the animal is preying on. Now it is a long-drawn exercise that will require around a year or a half establishing the presence of the animal and other vitals,” said Anand.
He said leopards are difficult to sight, as they are adept at hiding and can even climb trees. Since the sanctuary has a good prey base, including animals such as neelgais, hares, jackals, peafowls and rabbits, it is expected that the leopard may stay for a long period in the area. “This sighting is actually a result of continuous efforts at habitat restoration being undertaken by the division over the past year. Trespassing has been curbed to a large extent and even feral cattle that people from nearby villages would leave here for grazing are being seized,” Anand said.
Sohail Madan, ecologist and centre manager of the Conservation Education Centre at the Asola sanctuary, which is maintained by the BNHS, said several leopard sightings have been recorded in the sanctuary by their staff and forest officials over the last two years, but this one is peculiar. “There was a sighting in January where a leopard was spotted near the lake in the sanctuary. This sighting is important, as it has been made from that portion of the forest which had high anthropogenic pressure with cattle grazing, trespassing and other kinds of encroachment. Habitat restoration measures such as curbing of trespassing that was a major disturbance, as well as creating check dams and waterholes have been taken up. So, this sighting is a result of these efforts. However, besides camera traps, we need more study analysing direct and indirect evidences such as pug marks to understand the habitat preference of the animal, what are the wildlife corridors it’s using, prey base estimation,” said Madan.
Experts said presence of an apex predator such as a leopard being present in the forest area is a good sign.
Faiyaz A Khudsar, scientist in-charge of the Yamuna Biodiversity Park, said sighting of a leopard is a welcome sign and is ecologically significant. “Long-term monitoring is required of the paths, tracks and trails for establishing more about the presence, absence and the period of stay of the animal. Any big cat requires a prey base to sustain for a long period. The animal may be a resident. A leopard is a generalist feeder [animals that can survive in various environments] and can explore food such as leftovers from a garbage dump, kill a dog or depend on hares. The sanctuary is surrounded by the Tilpath Valley, another green patch and thus has a large landscape for movement. The habitat has to be kept secured for further study of animal behaviour,” said Khudsar.