About a month ago, Delhi witnessed a bizarre incident where a Nilgai was found in one of the most unlikely places in the city – the lush green lawns of parliament house! The front page of newspapers featured an image of the frenzied animal being caught by trappers after it probably strayed into the area from the nearby ridge forest. In a metropolitan city like Delhi where about 97.5 per cent of the population is urban, incidents such as these are likely to be in the public eye. It is actually quite surprising to find a wild beast caught in the hustle and bustle of one of the most populous cities of the world.
As urbanization is occurring at a rapid pace the world over, cities tend to transform in structure and composition. The constant craving for space causes the city to foray into the countryside, leading to a general reduction in the buffer that separates the urban from the non-urban. As a result, cities are becoming increasingly accessible to several faunal species that might choose to colonize the city for a variety of reasons. For one, cities are heterogeneous entities that can cater to habitat preferences of a wide range of species. Secondly, although habitats may be fragmented and patchy within the city, sustained supply of resources acts as an attractant to animals from the surrounding countryside. While these factors may or may not be sufficient to explain the existence of fauna in the city, there are other factors that have contributed to making the forests of Delhi an abode for wildlife.
The two most prominent ecological features of Delhi are the Aravalis and the Yamuna floodplains. By virtue of being situated in the tapering end of the Aravali mountain range, a significant portion of Delhi’s landmass has always been under forest cover. Most of these forests form a part of the Delhi Ridge, which has served as a refuge for a plethora of animals. The nilgai or bluebull – an antelope species – is the largest mammal that is found in Delhi. The golden jackal, on the other hand, is a mesopredator or a mid-sized predator that is widely distributed in the green patches of the city. Some of the other medium and small-sized denizens of the city are porcupines, civets, rhesus macaque, mongoose and hare. There have also been unconfirmed reports of jungle cat and striped hyena in Delhi’s only wildlife sanctuary – the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary.
The presence of nilgai, golden jackal, porcupine, civet and hare were confirmed first-hand when we at the School of Human Ecology, Ambedkar University Delhi, undertook a preliminary faunal assessment in Sanjay Van – a city forest that forms a part of the south-central ridge of Delhi. Sanjay Van is spread over an area of about 3.17 sq. km and surrounded by human establishments from all sides. Within the Van itself is a network of jogging tracks and walking trails that are used for recreational purposes and thoroughfare. There are also a couple of religious establishments within the forest that are frequented by people. After about a month of camera trapping in the Van, we were able to gather photographic evidence of the kind of faunal species that inhabit the forests of the Delhi ridge.
For the common man living in Delhi, it is fascinating to know that there exists such a rich diversity of animals in the city. I myself was ecstatic the first time I saw images of different animals on my camera trap. While the city serves as a refuge for these species, the city benefits from the various roles that these species play in maintaining its ecology. There is also some aesthetic value that may be ascribed to the city by the mere presence of wildlife. While there is a general lack of awareness about parks, forests and wildlife among the citizenry of Delhi, efforts are being made by state authorities and other environment based societies and organisations to sensitize people about the biodiversity of the state through education programmes, nature walks and so on. Such efforts are, in my opinion, necessary to ensure that the citizens of Delhi understand the ecological as well as the aesthetic value of having fauna in the city.