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Forest dept set to conduct leopard census at Delhi’s Asola | Latest News Delhi

Delhi’s forest and wildlife department is set to carry out a leopard census at the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary in south Delhi — the first such exercise in the Capital focused only on the big cat — to get a fresh estimate of their population in the area, officials aware of the matter said.

After the Asola Bhatti census is complete, the department plans to carry out a similar exercise across Delhi’s biodiversity parks under the jurisdiction of DDA. (HT Archive)

The census, which is set to commence next month, will be carried out over a period of three months and will involve around 20 camera traps, the officials said. Once complete, the department also plans to carry out a similar exercise across Delhi’s biodiversity parks under the jurisdiction of the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), they said.

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The department is currently in the process of procuring the camera traps.

Asola Bhatti is Delhi’s lone wildlife sanctuary, which is spread over an area of 32.71 sq km in the southern Ridge. The last mammal census carried out in the area — conducted between June 2021 and June 2022 — had revealed the presence of eight leopards, each identified by analysing the difference in the rosette patterns on their limbs, tail, head and forequarters. Five of the leopards were likely using the space as a permanent home, officials said.

In addition, the mammal census had also revealed the presence of striped hyenas, jungle cats, golden jackal, Indian hare, Indian boar, black buck, sambar deer, spotted deer, and hog deer in the sanctuary. Months later, in January 2023, videos also emerged of two leopard cubs, which were possibly born after the exercise was completed.

Since then, there have been multiple sightings of leopards in Delhi — at south Delhi’s Sainik Farms area in December 2023 (a location close to the sanctuary); a leopard that was found dead on NH-44 in north Delhi’s Alipur, also in December 2023; a leopard that was spotted in outer Delhi’s Bawana in January this year; and a leopard that injured eight people in north Delhi’s Jagatpur on April 1.

In the April 1 instance, though officials suspected that the leopard had entered Jagatpur from the nearby Yamuna Biodiversity Park, the big cat was caught and released at Asola Bhatti.

“Following the latest encounter with the leopard, the chief secretary has issued instructions to carry out a leopard census. This will be done to assess the leopard population at Asola and also assess the possible corridors leopards are using. While we will initially only do a census at Asola, we also plan to eventually cover the biodiversity parks in Delhi as well,” said Suneesh Buxy, Delhi’s chief wildlife warden.

While the previous study at Asola was a joint exercise by the forest department and the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), forest officials said that this time around they will go it by themselves.

“The department is procuring camera traps and around 20 traps will be placed around the sanctuary, based on the possible areas where they are likely to be present. Data will be collected for a period of two to three months, after which the images will be analysed for leopard movement and their count,” Buxy said.

Earlier this week, the department had also announced it would be creating a standard operating procedure for leopards in Delhi, based on which sensitisation programmes will be carried out in different parts of Delhi on what to do when a leopard is spotted. This will involve sensitising locals about the animal’s behaviour, its characteristics, along with do’s and don’ts when coming face to face with the animal.

Faiyaz Khudsar, a scientist in charge of DDA’s biodiversity parks programme in Delhi, said that a leopard census can prove useful in identifying the corridors that leopards are using to move across the Aravallis, particularly from Haryana to Delhi.

“Based on the areas where pugmarks are seen, camera traps can be placed and this will allow rigorous collection of data and will ultimately help identify their exact population. This data can be used to know which routes are being used by leopards, not just around Asola, but in north Delhi too,” he said.

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