Pune’s Wild West: Hyenas, leopards and wolves share space with humans
Three carnivorous species – leopards, wolves and hyenas – have been found sharing space with human beings in the semi-arid areas of Pune district outside national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Back in 2019, a study led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found that striped hyenas occupied 75% of the semi-arid landscape followed by Indian grey wolves (64%) and leopards (57%) in western Maharashtra. According to the forest department, hyena sightings have been on the rise with wildlife enthusiasts too spotting these animals.
It was Baramati member of parliament (MP) Supriya Sule who first shone the light on hyenas by sharing pictures of active hyena dens on the outskirts of Pune. Hyenas have been spotted in the Pune-Ahmednagar, Pune-Solapur, Jejuri, Saswad, Morgaon and Baramati areas of the district.
Visits carried out by wildlife experts to potential hyena haunts have led to the discovery of many other active hyena dens on the outskirts of Pune where a healthy population of hyenas has been found. Hyenas feed on dead poultry and are often found feeding on carcasses dumped outside villages. Besides poultry, they also feed on dead dogs and dead cattle.
Freelance filmmaker, conservationist and founder of The Grasslands Trust, an NGO focused on research, protection and conservation of hyenas, Mihir Godbole, said, “Hyenas are among the most intelligent, social and caring animals but also the most misunderstood. Even though they have been vilified by human beings and culture as demonic and shrewd scavengers, they are crucial for the wellbeing of their habitat. Hyenas are scavengers who survive on dead animals and are not a threat to people.”
The hyena species found in India clean up the ecosystem and are harmless to human beings. “We have a good population of hyenas around Pune and they cohabit peacefully with leopards, wolves and other animals. They feed on decaying matter and never leave rotting meat lying around to spread diseases. It is because of this that they are called cleaners of the ecosystem. They have small family groups and use dens to give birth to their young ones. They are harmless animals and we have a good population of hyenas in and around Pune including the city boundaries. Pune was always a hotspot for hyenas and as the city is growing, they are going farther away from the city,” Godbole said.
Deputy conservator of forests, Pune, Rahul Patil, said, “The NGO’s and forest department are working jointly on several projects for protecting and conserving wild life animals like leopards, hyenas and wolves and their habitats. We will further extend the conservation methods by adoption of best practices for the preservation of the important wildlife species.”
Pune’s hyena population is concentrated in the agriculture-dominated landscape comprising private farmlands, forest lands and pastures. Wildlife enthusiasts warn that Pune’s hyenas face multiple threats including loss of habitat. Rapid urbanisation on the outskirts of the city is destroying the natural habitat of all the grassland-oriented animal species including hyenas.
Meanwhile, the northern parts of Pune district including the Ambegaon and Junnar tehsils have reported a large number of leopards. There have also been instances of man-animal conflict due to shrinking forest space for these big cats.
In March, a rare leucistic Indian fox was sighted in Solapur, Pune’s neighbouring district. The sighting was recorded by Shivanand Hiremath from the grassland at Akkalkot. According to wildlife experts, it is for the first time that such a species has been spotted in the country. It is smaller than a fox and ranges between 50 and 60 cm in length. It basically keeps the rat population under control and is beneficial for farmers. “I found the species in March and placed it on record before the forest department. It is for the first time that this species has been found and it’s completely white in colour with only the tip of its tail black in colour. The fox lives on land or in burrows and feeds on berries, insects and small animals,” said Hiremath who is also a wildlife photographer.
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