Leopards Around Delhi By Navin M Raheja

Sunday 1st March 2015

Those were my childhood days in the summer of 1960 when my father was posted at Ballabhgarh, Haryana. I can still recall one of the incidents that left me spellbound as a child. On a regular pleasant evening my father returned from his work and called me and my other siblings to show something in a wrapped handkerchief. Unfolding it he showed us a tiger dropping (excreta) which he found at the adjoining Aravalis. I was amazed  at the existence of tigers so close to the city. Years passed by and due to population increase and development around we almost forgot about the traces of tiger my father had found.  Although no data is available on when we lost the last tiger in Aravali Belt around Delhi but certainly we do have leopards
in the area.

After over five decades, today (Feb 20, 2015) while going through the Times of India newspaper, I found news of a leopard death in Usmanpur which is the north east area of Delhi. This is the fourth leopard death in a row around the National Capital Region and perhaps 9th within the last nine months. A leopard carcass was recovered from ITC golf course, Gurgaon on April 16, 2014. As I inquired further with the forest department, it came to me as a shock, not just one but four leopards had died in the same vicinity. Gurgaon is the least likely place in India to have leopards.

As they say “A leopard cannot change his spots.” So is it we humans who need to change? But a much bigger question here is if people and large carnivores like leopards share a landscape; can coexistence between the two foster? The crumbling of forests and wildlife habitat close to the cities is apparently becoming a grave concern for extermination of wildlife. Although by and large the local leopard population tries to steer clear of humans but at times conflict is inevitable either because people simply see a leopard and create a havoc or in some cases because a leopard starts visiting near human settlements in search of goats, cattle and even dogs as its prey is dwindling due to human encroachment. The human-leopard conflict isn’t anything new to us but we generally turn a blind eye to its repercussions. The repercussions do involve us but it largely involves the leopards.     Humans still have a shelter but the leopards unfortunately it seems are fast losing one and we still take pride in mob lynching or poisoning of this otherwise harmless creature.

About two years ago, I saw pugmarks of a female leopard on the backyard of my ashram in Sainik Farms. It did not surprise me much, as my ashram shares its boundary with Asola wildlife sanctuary of Delhi. I immediately contacted the Delhi Wildlife SOS to reconfirm if there were any traces of leopard existence in that area and yes, I was right. About three months later I read a story in one of the newspaper about a leopard which was trapped in concertina wires of a boundary wall of DLF farms, Chattarpur. I somehow believe it was the same leopard whose pugmarks were found behind my Ashram.

While Delhi has the Asola Bhati sanctuary in the Aravali hills and Rajasthan has the Sariska  Tiger Reserve, the intervening Aravali areas in Haryana have no sanctuary or national park. Aravalis adjoining Delhi especially along Gurgaon- Faridabad highway connects Asola Bhati with the rest of the patchy jungle belt of Haryana and Rajasthan. It can serve as an important wildlife corridor, if conserved. In my opinion, Aravalis have been the leopards’ traditional habitat. There is enough wild prey in the scrub forest. There are ravines too which make it perfect for leopards to live stealthily.

In November, 2014 a fully grown leopard was attempting to pass through the Delhi-Jaipur highway, having very little idea of what was going to transpire. The next few minutes brought with it the most terrible sight when an unidentified speeding vehicle ran over the animal making it lifeless. The tragic fate of leopards has probably just started to unfold. In December 2014, an adult male leopard had been paying surprise visits to the villagers of Abupur, Ghaziabad and wandering around the sugarcane fields keeping terrified villagers at bay. After a few days of sightings, its dead body was discovered in the sugarcane fields near the railway track. Just a day before that incident another leopard carcass was found near Pachehra village in Loni, Ghaziabad. Although any foul play was ruled out by the forest department, the animal had reportedly died because of coming in contact with high voltage wires lade by someone.

Last week February 2015 while taking a stroll behind my ashram on the fringes of Asola wildlife century I was thrilled to see the re-emergence of pugmarks of another female leopard. I have had the privilege of living and sharing great moments with leopards in the forests. It is one of the most beautiful creations around us. We just need a little understanding to give it space to live.

It is estimated that Haryana houses about 25 or so leopards but the major challenge is to ensure their safety. One of the threats comes from some major roads passing through the leopard habitat  (NH-8, Palwal-Sohna-Rewari, Gurgaon-Faridabad highway etc). While in a population of over 2 crores, not even a single human being was killed by the leopard, in last two years, total of nine leopards constituting perhaps a large part of its total population has been exterminated by our so called civilized race. It is tragic to see our intolerant and ignorant behavior.

Is it the leopard, which seems to have forgotten its territory and dares to venture in the urban settlements or is it the authorities who are not able to put a halt on the rising number of leopard deaths? There does not seem to be a definite answer for the same but ensuring safe and rich prey base in leopard corridors is a need of the hour. The fragmented corridors need to be linked so that a larger habitat is available for the leopards giving them fewer chances of straying and ending up being prey to urbanization.

It’s a universal truth that if humans destroy wildlife and its habitat, the leopards will get even closer and that too without any prior notice. We must preserve its viable population by preserving some wilderness around us.




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