Gurugram: Leopard study, animal census await funds as conflict escalatesUpdated: Feb 16, 2020, 23:55 IST
A statewide animal census and an ecological study of leopards and hyenas, in Gurugram and adjoining districts, have been gathering dust for one and over two years, respectively, as the state government is yet to allocate funds.
The ecological study was proposed by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, at the behest of Haryana’s forest department and was estimated to cost the exchequer ₹2.2crore. The statewide wildlife census—proposal for which was also prepared by the WII in March 2019 on Haryana government’s request—was estimated to cost about ₹40 lakh.
Aalok Verma, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Haryana, said, “I was not in office at the time, but the files mention that there was some budget issue with the census exercise. We will attempt to take it up in the upcoming financial year. The wildlife corridor study, with respect to leopards, is mentioned as being ‘in process’. We will reopen talks with the institute and look into the funding.”
MEANT TO ADDRESS MAN-ANIMAL CONFLICT
The targeted study of leopards and hyenas was proposed towards the end of 2017, in view of rising instances of human-animal conflict in the region. “We were approached by the forest department soon after the incident where a leopard entered an automobile factory in Manesar, in October 2017. The department was concerned and asked us to suggest preventive measures,” WII head of the department of animal ecology and conservation biology, Bilal Habib, said.
In response, the WII proposed a four-year study, using radio-telemetry and camera traps, wherein radio collars would be fitted on to leopards to track their movement in forests and along human-dominated areas of
Gurugram, Faridabad and nearby districts.
The objectives of the study were to determine the density and movement of these predators in south Haryana’s Aravalli regions, to identify conflict hot spots and determine population parameters, such as turnover rate, survival and dispersal.
The study would also determine the extent of South Haryana’s wildlife corridor—which runs between Asola Bhatti in Delhi and Sariska in Rajasthan—and suggest measures for its protection. “The initial cost of this proposal was ₹1.7 crore and later revised to ₹2.2 crore. However, we have not commenced with the exercise as no funds were allotted,” Habib said.
MS Malik, chief conservator (wildlife), Gurugram, was unaware of the proposal and declined to comment till he checked relevant files.
Vinod Kumar, APCCF, Haryana and former CF (wildlife), Gurugram, confirmed that such a study was proposed during his tenure. “The forest department had sought a proposal, which we received. It was an important exercise, but perhaps not financially viable,” he said.
On October 5, 2017, a 6.5-year-old male leopard was rescued from a factory after 36 hours and made headlines. The incident took place one year after the Mandawar incident when a leopard was beaten to death by villagers in presence of wildlife officials. But 2017 was also the year when he forest department amped up sensitization measures for staff and villagers. In the years since, animals have continued to stray into human settlements and are often sighted—cases of which have increased—threatening the delicate peace that exists between wild animals and villagers.
STATE WILDLIFE CENSUS
In March 2019, the Haryana government engaged the WII once again to conduct a statewide wildlife census along the lines of the one it had carried out in the Aravalli hills near Gurugram in 2017, and Panchkula’s Kalesar in 2016. “The WII sent a proposal for a one-year exercise at a cost of ₹40 lakh,” Habib said.
“The proposal is also awaiting funds, and it might be taken up in the next financial year,” a senior forest department official in the know of the matter said, adding that a dedicated census of wildlife in biodiversity hotspots, including the Aravallis, Morni hills and Kalesar, has been pending for at least three years.
“The WII’s proposal had received financial approval from the state government in July last year. It is regrettable that the exercise has not commenced as yet,” the official said.
The WII’s 2017 wildlife census (a copy of which is with HT), identifies over 200sqkm in five districts of south Haryana that serve as leopard habitat, with Gurugram and Faridabad forming its core area. In this region, the WII had recorded presence of 31 leopards, 166 jackals, three wolves, 126 hyenas and 61 civet cats.
The villages of Ghamroj in Bhondsi, Raipur in Raisina; Mangar, Badhkal and Gothda in Faridabad; Kotla and Kansali in Mewat; and Khol and Panchota in Mahendragarh were found to have the highest densities of leopards.
Experts and environmentalists said a targeted ecological study on leopards was more important than a census count, given the rising number of wild animal deaths in Gurugram and Faridabad. “The census is important, but a targeted leopard study is the need of the hour. At present, we have virtually no dedicated research on the subject in Haryana, while instances of conflict are on the rise,” said Pia Sethi, of the Centre for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services at TERI.
In the districts of Gurugram, Faridabad and Nuh—all of which are flanked by South Haryana’s Aravallis—the past year has been marked by frequent episodes of human-animal conflict. With four leopard deaths in 2019 alone (as opposed to 11 between 2014 and 2018) and multiple sightings recorded throughout the region, the conflict, experts said, was worsening as urban development was eating into forests.
But forest department officials maintained that leopard population in the region was on the incline in keeping with a nationwide trend.
The first casualty last year was the death of a 10-month-old female cub in January. She was killed on the Gurugram-Faridabad Road near Pali village after being hit by, as per officials, a heavy vehicle. The spot was close to where a similar accident took place in 2015.
Previously as well, experts and environmentalists have drawn attention to the lack of animal underpasses on Gurgaon-Faridabad Road, which winds through the Aravallis for about 66kms.
In June a two-year-old female leopard was electrocuted to death in Sohna’s Lala Kherli village after it got entangled in an overhead high-tension power cable. Autopsy results confirmed it died as a result of electrical burns.
Two more leopards died in October and November. On Oct 19, a 1.5-year-old female leopard was killed by a truck on NH48, in Manesar. On November 14, an adult male leopard found his way into Faridabad’s Sarupur industrial area, where he holed himself in a manufacturing unit. Though he was rescued after seven hours, he reportedly “succumbed to injuries” on the same day.