This week, Mumbaikars were taken with awe and surprise as thousands of Flamingos painted the city pink. The residents of Noida could not decide on what to do next when passer-bys halted on finding a Nilgai right in the middle of the road.
It has been a month since the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown began, and people world over have seen beautiful changes in the nature around them. As human activity and human intervention has reduced to the minimum, several wild animals and birds have been spotted around the urban civilisations.
Greater number of instances
"Direct reduction in human presence and human activities like earthmoving, mining, vehicular movement, tree cutting, etc., have made the animals feel safer and bolder, and I think that is the reason, we have begun seeing slightly more of them," said ornithologist Dr Satish Pande, who is also the Founder of Ela Foundation, an NGO working towards wildlife in Pune district.
"Ela Foundation has trapped cameras near water holes in several locations in Purandar taluka, some closer to human civilisation, while some in isolated spaces, for the past five years. Never have we seen the variety of animals as we saw in the past one month," said Pande.
Purandar taluka is the ecotone of two biodiversity zones - Deccan Plateau and the Western Ghats. This makes it one of the most favourite hotspots for environmentalists.
"Earlier, we would see smaller animals like Monitor Lizard (commonly known as Ghorpad), Peacocks, Chinkara, etc. In the last one month, we have noticed several mammals too like families of Leopard, Civet Cat, Jungle Cat, Porcupine, Mongoose, Jackal, Wolf, Hyena, Wild Boar, Barking Deer, Four-Horned Antelope, and so on," Pande said.
Speaking to Sakal Times, biologist Nikhil Dandekar said, "If you visit the towns and villages close to the protected forest areas in South India, such instances are very common for them. However, here, it is probably the first time that we are noticing animals so close to our cities and towns."
Pande said that the animals foraying into the areas usually frequented by humans are a sign of them reclaiming their lost habitats.
"We have been locked inside our homes for hardly a month, and it's driving us crazy. Think about how generations of animals have been doing the same for centuries now. Despite this, the animals have painted their boundaries. So many animals are coming near us, and we have not had any human-animal conflict situations," Pande added.
Dandekar pointed out that the majority of sightings were in the areas that were in the vicinity of forests.
"I would like to say that the conservation programmes that we have been implementing, especially the tiger reserves, have been working quite well. The number of animals has certainly increased. It's just that they don't like human disturbance. But as the human activity has reduced, the animals have set out to explore," Dandekar said.
He added, "We have encroached upon animal habitats. As their numbers are increasing, they also need more space. I think the lockdown has finally allowed them to get out of their confined areas."
However, as per ornithologist Pankaj Koparde one of the reasons why especially the bird sightings have increased could be that the people now actually have the time to pause and notice them.
"You never know, these birds might be coming to your backyard forever. But never before did you have the time to stand quietly in the balcony and notice them. This lockdown has given us the opportunity to get in sync with our own surroundings which, along with of course reduced activity, has given us the chance to see several birds we had not seen before," Koparde added.
The way forward
"It will be impossible to adjust the larger wild mammals into our day-to-day urban life once lockdown is lifted. However, we can certainly make our cities more homely for the birds," Dandekar said, suggesting plantation of more indigenous trees on the urban landscapes.
"Plantation of indigenous flowering and fruit trees, and not the fancy trees that don't fit in, will attract more birds, and give them safe places amidst the hustle and bustle of city life. We can make water easily available for the birds. We have taken their habitats away from them, and I think this is the least that we could do to give back," the biologist said.
He also added that we need to rethink the consumption of fossil fuel that destroys forests, and in turn habitats of several species.