Fauna in the City – Part II

Ajay Immanuel Gonji

About three weeks ago, a solitary male leopard was found loitering in the national capital’s Yamuna Biodiversity Park (YBP) – one of the two biodiversity parks (the other being the Aravalli Biodiversity Park) that has been established in the capital by the Delhi Development Authority. According to park officials, the animal is believed to have traversed several hundred kilometres to reach the park. Wild animals are increasingly moving out of their natural habitats in the wild, in response to a variety of both natural and anthropogenic pressures. Animals are having to find alternative resources and habitats that can provide for their survival and sustenance. In this respect, the leopard sighting in YBP is an indication of the growing importance of the city as an attraction to wild fauna.

As stated in my previous blog post “Fauna In The City – Part I”, cities are heterogeneous entities with a sustained supply of resources that cater to niche preferences of a wide range of species. As such, city parks, gardens, backyards, rooftops, garbage dumps, drainage lines, and railway lines are some of the many places where one can find some form of urban fauna. Human activities have created these unique habitats that are conducive to the survival of several birds, rodents, primates and reptiles. However, the relatively more “wild” fauna such as jackals, civets, nilgai, and hare still require the mosaic of remnant forest patches of the Delhi ridge.

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A group of resident nilgai foraging in Sanjay Van, Delhi. Photograph: Ajay IG

These sporadic patches of vegetation, although disconnected from each other, provide refuge to animals and allow them to take advantage of a unique combination of both natural and anthropogenic resources. For instance, a majority of forest patches in Delhi are surrounded by human establishments. As a result, waste that is generated from these establishments often aggregates in garbage dumps located in the periphery of the forest. Being opportunistic foragers, urban fauna may often come out of their relatively secure forest habitats at night to scavenge on garbage waste. This waste serves as an additional source of food besides the natural food that is available to animals inside the forest. City forests in Delhi are also frequented by a number of people who may use it for recreational activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, or for thoroughfare. Some of these people and several others visit the forest to provide food for birds, animals and even ants!

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A feeding site in one of the city forests where morning walkers provide birds and animals with food grains and leftovers from the previous day. Here is seen a group of pigs and a pair of golden jackals. Photographs: Ajay IG

As can be seen in the preceding paragraph, city forests are spaces where there is a lot of human activity during the day. This means the movement of animals is highly restricted during the day. Animals, especially omnivores such as jackals must forage during the night when forests are relatively free from human beings. There is an added threat during the day from feral dogs which are known to compete for similar resources, many times attacking and killing wild fauna. Although we haven’t carried out camera trap surveys during the day, camera trapping in the night revealed continuous animal activity from dusk to dawn. However, while there is much animal movement within a particular forest patch, some animals may look to move across patches in search of resources. This poses a huge challenge to animals since habitat patches are usually bifurcated by roads and highways, creating the possibility of them getting run over by speeding vehicles. As a matter of fact, during our study in one of the city forests in Delhi, we encountered road kills on a regular basis.

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Animals face a massive challenge while attempting to move across habitat patches. Here is seen a male nilgai and a golden jackal road kill on a highway bifurcating two habitat patches in Delhi. Photographs: (1) Ajay IG, (2) Suresh Babu

Urban wildlife has carved out a unique niche for themselves by modifying their behaviour, so much so that many species not just survive, but also thrive in the city. Their plasticity in behaviour, social ecology, and diet (Bateman & Fleming, 2012) has caused them to be labelled as ‘urban adapters’ (McKinney, 2002). Urban adapters are characteristic species of landscapes that have been altered and fragmented by man. Yet, urban fauna may not be entirely resistant to sustained persecution from human beings. As more and more people migrate to cities, there is immense pressure on state governments to create residential housing and other infrastructure. This leads to fierce competition for space, thereby making existing green patches and other open spaces extremely vulnerable to encroachment and shrinking. This has a direct bearing on urban wildlife which must constantly adapt to habitat changes, and cope with varying levels of stress and danger. In this regard, initiatives such as the creation of biodiversity parks and other protected spaces that function as safe havens for urban wildlife may be appropriate and should be encouraged. Such initiatives, along with a growing tolerance by city dwellers towards urban fauna will go a long way in ensuring the sustenance of fauna in the city.

 

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