‘6 new species found in Aarey in 10 years’
A latest compilation of species documented at Aarey Milk Colony in Goregaon shows that new species have been either been discovered or rediscovered every year over the past decade.
The 1,281 hectares (ha) area Aarey - managed by different government agencies - has witnessed six new discoveries and another five rediscoveries of spiders, scorpions and geckos over the past 10 years, details of which has been published under Animal Discoveries reports – New Species and New Records by Zoological Survey of India.
Aarey has been identified to have the fourth highest butterfly species diversity along the Western Ghats and in Maharashtra. Combined with this, a checklist of 48 species of reptiles and 12 amphibian species was collated by wildlife biologists and researchers - Zeeshan Mirza and Rajesh Sanap – to highlight the importance of Aarey’s biodiversity. The group has released the study as a debate continues over the preservation of this area from construction.
The species list throws light on the rich biodiversity of the green lung, which the state government recently rejected while debating the necessity of the proposed car depot across 33 ha that would lead to the felling of over 2,600 trees, a 32-storey Metro Bhavan, and other proposed projects at Aarey.
“The state has refused to accept peer reviewed scientific journals published, which stands as proof of why the entire Aarey should be protected as a no-development zone. The construction of the car shed is just the doorway to destroy this sacred ecosystem,” said Sanap. “There are several other species waiting to be described from Aarey.”
Mirza and Sanap were awarded by the Maharashtra government in 2011 for their biodiversity reports on Aarey. Species of jumping spiders, tarantulas, a gecko, trapdoor spiders, and scorpions have all been discovered while rediscoveries at Aarey date back to original documentations as old as 139 years for other parts of India and Asia.
“While an opposing argument says that these spiders, scorpions etc. are not scheduled species but we need to realise schedule does not define their rarity. A small spider is as important an indicator of an entire biome of this forest as trees, waterbodies etc. Once lost, it is impossible to recreate the habitat. The relic forest atop hills at Aarey needs to be protected at all costs,” said Mirza, researcher at National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru. “As more development creeps in untoward incidents in the form of human-animal conflict will only rise forcing the forest department to trap big cats owing to these decisions.”
Former Aarey chief operating officer (CEO) Gajanan Raut, currently with the Maharashtra government said, “This is an example of how development beats conservation. With the coming in of the metro car depot and allied activities, the entire Aarey Colony will be opened up to the builder lobby for construction. By 2030, the entire green lung will turn into a concrete jungle and these discoveries will only be left as historical references on paper.”
The current Aarey CEO Nathu Rathod said they will ensure the biodiversity remains protected. “Development for metro works was taken up by the government on their own land, which was decided almost five years ago for public benefit. We are aware about the rich biodiversity. Other parts of Aarey are well protected, and we will ensure that no residential projects enter these areas,” he said.
‘COMPENSATORY PLANTATION FOR TREES DOES NOT MEAN RESTORING GREEN LUNG’
Noted herpetologist Varad Giri from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru and former curator, Bombay Natural History Society said all the discoveries at Aarey have not happened randomly. “It is a natural process which has taken millions of years for the coming up of this forest. Destroying trees and acquiring spaces for construction projects at this green lung followed by compensatory afforestation is a cosmetic idea for restoration of this jungle. Cutting trees require no time but growing them takes ages. The time has come not just to fight for the car shed but get the entire Aarey Colony declared as a no-development zone and an extension of Sanjay Gandhi National Park.”
NEW SPECIES DISCOVERED (2009-2019)
-2019: New spider discovered Jerzego sunillimay: This is the first ever species of this genus Jerzego whose taxonomic details, mating behaviour, and egg development have been documented. However, this is the fourth species under this genus in the world and second from India.
-2017: Two new species of jumping spiders - Langelurillus onyx and Langelurillus lacteus - were discovered. Published in a journal Zootaxa, claims significance in terms of biogeography as a first for any African genus spider species discovered in Asia
-2016: First ground dwelling gecko - Cyrtodactylus varadgirii – discovered from Aarey in the last 130 years from India
-2014: New species of tarantula Heterophrictus aareyensus discovered spotted near the government guesthouse having similarity to tarantula species from the African continent
-2012: New trapdoor spider – Idiops rubrolimbatus – discovered and published in the Journal of Arachnology
-2011: New species of scorpion Lychas aareyensis discovered and published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa.
REDISCOVERIES AT AAREY (2009-2019)
-2018: Jumping spider species (Chyrsilla volpue) rediscovered after 139 years. Published in Arthropoda Selecta
-2017: Jumping spider (Piranthus decorus) rediscovered after 122 years. Published in Acta Arachnologieu
-2013: Tarantula- Pleasiophrictus millardi- rediscovery after 100 years. Published in Taprobanica
-2012: Trapdoor spider- Idiops bombayensis- rediscovered after 110 years. Published in the Journal of Arachnology
-2011: Tarantula- Haploclastus validus- rediscovered after 110 years. Published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa
** In all there are 90 different types of spiders, including five species of Tarantula and six species of scorpions
FOURTH HIGHEST BUTTERFLY SPECIES DIVERSITY
Karnala – 143 species, Amboli – 101 species, Phansad – 91 species, Aarey Milk Colony - 90 species including plain tiger, striped tiger, common crow, chocolate pansy, common Mormon etc.
48 species of reptiles
12 amphibian species
77 different avifauna (birdlife) species
6 Species of venomous snakes
Caecilian, rare snake-like amphibian was also discovered in the interiors of Aarey Colony
Checklist of Mammals:
Leopard, Spotted Deer, Sambar Deer, Barking Deer, Rusty-spotted Cat, Jungle Cat, Civet, Indian Mangoose, Jackal, Wild Boar, Indian Palm Squirrel, Bonnet Macaque, Rhesus Macaque, Common Langur, Flying Fox, Common Pipistrelle