Death, proof of leopard life in Asola sanctuary
The death of a 10-month old female leopard in a road mishap on January 26, on the Gurugram-Faridabad highway, a few hundred metres from the Capital’s border, has once again given credence to the theory that the Asola-Bhatti sanctuary in Delhi is home to the big cats.
The last time a leopard was killed on roads on this stretch, near the forested areas of Mangar in Haryana and the Asola-Bhatti sanctuary, was in 2015. There have been rumoured sightings of leopards in the sanctuary, but no conclusive proof of their presence.
Now, villagers and environmental activists say the accident is proof of a leopard population in the Gurugram-Faridabad Aravalis, which are not notified forests.
They are also in “status yet to be decided” category of natural conservation zone (NCZ) of the NCR Regional Plan 2021. Construction in NCZ areas, which covers Aravalis, forests, lakes and water bodies, is restricted to encourage conservation of these spaces. But the Haryana government reopened the status of these areas and directed district level authorities to conduct a so-called ground-truthing of the exact status of NCZs. The ground-truthing exercise is yet to be completed. This involves marrying remote sensing data with actual information from the ground.
With no legal protection to the Aravali stretches in this part of the region, environmentalists fear the NCR may lose another wildlife habitat to real estate.
“On January 26 morning, we saw pug marks of a juvenile leopard near a mining pit which acts like watering hole for animals. We suspect that the same leopard was killed later in the evening by a speeding vehicle. Last year, we saw pug marks of an adult and a cub several times in different parts of this stretch. They may have been of a mother and cub and same cub may have been killed. There is no doubt that there are leopards here and leopards and other wildlife also use this road to go to Asola or towards Sariska in Rajasthan,” said Sunil Harsana, an activist based in Mangar. The accident spot falls within a wildlife corridor connecting Sariska National Park in Rajasthan to Asola Bhatti sanctuary in Delhi.
The body of the leopard was removed from the spot by Traffic Police who informed wildlife officials, but no case has been registered with the police or wildlife department. “How can we register a case? There was no eye-witness in the case. This is the second leopard road kill since 2015. There are leopards here but direct sightings are uncommon,” said wildlife inspector Charan Singh.
Another wildlife official said efforts will now be made to identify and track leopards in the area. “We have identified two critical wildlife habitats near Gurgaon which includes Mangar Bani. We also have a proposal to radio-collar some leopards and hyenas in the Haryana Aravalis to track their movement routes and habitat,” said Bilal Habib of the animal ecology and conservation biology division of Wildlife Institute of India (WII).
Vidya Athreya, a Pune-based wildlife biologist and leopard expert, said walkways need to be constructed to give animals and people space to walk over roads. “Most of the infrastructure, including highways, in India is copied from other societies where not many rural people or wildlife use them. We need frequent walkways across high speed highways for rural people to use in the day and wildlife use at night.” She added that “leopards are known to coexist with people, so not every place can be declared a wildlife sanctuary but Aravalis support a whole lot of other biodiversity and are our natural heritage so they obviously need to be protected.”
The Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai, which has a healthy population of leopards, has set an example in coexistence with people and locals and nature lovers have been involved in conservation of leopards in the park periphery. Leopards are otherwise solitary creatures and are extremely adaptable to various habitats, including forests, and moderately populated peripheral areas around forests.
“The Aravalli hills in the Gurugram and Faridabad districts of Haryana, adjacent to the Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuary in Delhi, are prime leopard habitat. Leopard pug marks have been found in Mangar, Mohabatabad, Badkhal, Roj ka Gujar, and other parts. Leopards cross over from this area into the Asola sanctuary. Unfortunately this south to north movement of wildlife is disrupted by the east-west alignment of the Gurugram Faridabad highway,” said Gurugram based environmental analyst, Chetan Agarwal.
He added that “the highway hugs the southern edge of the Asola sanctuary for several km, and the fast moving traffic on the four lane highway poses a serious hazard in this important wildilife habitat and corridor”.