A year-long study has confirmed the presence of eight leopards in the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, an indicator of its thriving ecosystem.
The sanctuary did not record any leopard sighting for many decades after 1940, as per the Gazetteer of Delhi. In 2019, the Delhi forest department reported fresh sightings of leopard pug marks and scats in the sanctuary.
The study conducted by the Delhi forest and wildlife department and the Bombay Natural History Society from June 2021 to June 2022 used 42 infra-red stealth camera traps. It has provided an estimation of the population size, density and spatial distribution of the leopards.
The study has also shed light on the presence and spatial distribution of other mammals such as striped hyena, jungle cat, golden jackal, Indian hare, Indian boar, black buck, sambar deer, spotted deer, and hog deer among others.
It authenticates the presence of eight leopards which is an indicator of the thriving ecosystem of the sanctuary. The belief that leopards can coexist alongside human settlements holds its ground in this study.
"Of these eight leopards, four males and one female have appeared on a regular basis in front of camera traps. They have been found roaming the same tracks once and even twice in the same week multiple times. This suggests that they have made this urban forest their permanent home," the report said.
Abutting the sanctuary, Sanjay Colony is a highly human-dominated area. Despite this, leopards were seen visiting the area time to time. The area of the sanctuary bordering the Chhatarpur region and the Neeli Jheel witnessed maximum sightings of leopards.
The creation of the sanctuary and the recent introduction of the Eco Task Force has reduced human activity in the sanctuary. The forest and wildlife department has initiated restoration and plantation activities within the sanctuary to rewild it.
"Once a barren area with abandoned mining pits and invasive trees, the sanctuary has undergone transformation into a lush forest with myriad flora. This has subsequently led to the return of leopard and other mammals in this area," the report said.
The forest and wildlife department said the study will serve as a pilot study, and will be used to design a programme where long-term studies on different mammals will be conducted.
Considering leopard an umbrella species, the study can be useful in devising various conservation management plans for other associated species with the goal of transforming the sanctuary into a true urban wildlife refuge, it said.
Researchers said the Sariska-Delhi wildlife corridor is still functional and the restoration programmes in the sanctuary provided a safe habitat for leopards and their associated species.
It was found that most of the leopards share their home ranges with each other. Studies have suggested that a leopard's home range largely depends upon the availability of prey and can vary somewhere between nine and 451 square kilometres.
The leopards of Asola share an area of just 32.71 sq km and probably, also occupy the adjoining forest patches of the bordering Faridabad district.
The researchers said the sanctuary has a leopard population density of 4.5 per 100 km.
The leopard population density is 3.03 in the Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh; 3.1 in the Sariska Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan; 2.8 in the Dhachigam National Park, Jammu Kashmir; 12.04 in Chhattisgarh's Achanakmar Tiger Reserve; and 13.41 in Mudumalayi Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu. PTI GVS IJT