Two years back I camped in a jungle near Udaipur for a fortnight. To my utter astonishment, I did not hear a single cry of Jackals. The cry of a jackal is one of the most common features of Indian jungles. All the naturalists and hunters touched jackal in their books on Indian jungles. Colonel F. T. Pollok interpreted the cry as “a dead Hindu where? where? Here! Here! Here!” there is an old saying that if a jackal started crying, the sound reaches up to the Ganges, i.e., the cry is answered by other jackal a few furlong away and then another answers a few furlong away and so on, till the barriers of mighty Ganges absorb them. This shows in the abundance in which the jackals were found a few decades ago.
But alas…thanks to the potash bombs and cheap poison, this interesting and useful animal is practically wiped out from our country by unscrupulous people for the sake of its pelt.
When I returned from my camp, the very same night I was delighted to hear the howling of jackals in the courtyard of my house. Thanks to the city graveyard, where they find a refuge, these animals are saved in the vicinity of the city. Perhaps man after death learns how and why to protect wildlife. I hope that their progeny may one day again spread throughout the jungles near Udaipur.
Udaipur city was a walled city before independence. During those good old days there was plenty of wildlife in the city itself. Sounders of wild boars roamed in the lanes during nights. With the help of their tushes they used to break open the door of the houses, enter in and lick the flour by overturning the hand operated grain grinders.
Some of the incidences of my childhood are still very fresh in my mind. One day a she jackal littered in the drainage of my house that was right in the heart of Udaipur city. Scores of people gathered to see the young jackals. Ultimately they were taken away by municipal staff. One morning there was a great hullabaloo in the house of my neighbour. Their kitchen was built on the roof and was covered with mud tiles. That night two civets entered the kitchen by removing the tiles and had a good meal of jaggery stored in. My neighbours were very frightened by this incidence because there was a belief that civets carry away young children.
About twenty years ago we shifted to a suburb of Udaipur called Panchwati. At that time to see a jackal or a fox was not an unusual sight around our residence. Peafowl, partridges, quails, green pigeons etc. were in plenty and spent the nights over trees and bushes near our house. Panthers and hyenas were also kind enough to pay an occasional visit. About 200m away from our house, a pantheress with two cubs stayed in a small sugarcane field and made two kills before she was driven away. To prepare vinegar we once left a pitcher full of cane juice in the courtyard of our house and jackals had a good party with the juice that night. We became aware of this mischief only when they finished the drink and started howling and broke the pitcher.
Gradually as the jungle of bricks and cement increased they retreated further away. Though some of them vanished altogether but a few are still there.
Some birds like crows, kites, pigeons, sparrows and mynas have adjusted to the ways of man and are thriving in his company. They are seen in good numbers in the urban areas than elsewhere. Holes in the walls and projections of houses provide a good place for nesting. Thanks to our religious sentiments, banyan, peepal and neem trees escaped the axe and are good nesting places for kites, crows and other birds. Man’s refuge and spillover provide them plenty of food. They are luckier than their jungle brethren because with less effort they get more food. As they have to spend less energy in procuring food they are healthier and multiply better than those in the jungle.
Apart from these, many other kinds of birds and mammals have adjusted to the urban surroundings because there are many advantages for them to be in or near cities. Plenty of food in the form of man’s refuse and leftovers is available and there is less predation. Dogs and cats are the prime predators of urban area but they too have plenty to eat. This makes them lethargic and they become less interested in perusing or stalking to kill.
In urban areas people with different religious backgrounds live in close proximity, so the mighty predator human restrains itself from destroying wildlife. Also it is not possible to use firearms in such surroundings.
Of course there are young hunters armed with airguns and catapults. But their weapons are not so deadly and their area of operation is very limited. Hence they are not so great a threat to birds and animals.
I have seen gazelles near many townships unconcerned of honking of automobile horns and full blast of the whistle of a railway engine. They have adjusted to the noise pollution created by humans.
In Jaipur city, to see a peafowl is not an unusual sight. They seem to have learnt the traffic rules and steer neatly with heavy traffic. There are seldom any accidents in which a peafowl is run over by a vehicle.
To see egrets, herons, ibises and plovers near muddy pools of sewage in urban areas is a common sight.
In spite of such adaptations and adjustments, many types of birds and mammals of urban areas are facing great problems because they have been neglected by town planners. They are losing whatever habitat they have very rapidly. Every bit of wood is collected for fuel. This leaves the birds which nest on the ground and mammals like jackals etc., no other place to bring and rear their young safely, except for big gardens and graveyards, . So their numbers are declining gradually. Birds, which build their nests in bushes, have very little choice. Except for a few hedges of some bungalows, they have no other thorny bushes that give their eggs and chicks better protection.
In the course of town planning there should be a subject on how to protect and give better refuge to the wildlife of urban areas. A few hectares of undisturbed land in patches with dense undergrowth, trees and pools of water will help the cities’ hard-pressed wildlife. Cities and townships, which fall in the migration routes of big animals, should have a long strip of such undisturbed land along urban areas, a sort of animal highway, to give them a safe passage to migrate.
Such small sanctuaries in urban areas can harbour many forms of wildlife very safely. It will also bring the urban population nearer to nature, which in turn shall be a source of education to them. These small reserves will be easy to maintain at much less recurring expenditure. If the present state of depletion of fauna and flora continues, these small urban sanctuaries will survive longer than the other wildlife refuges.
Originally Published in Zoo’s Print (Journal of Zoo Outreach Organisation) in 1988:
Tehsin, R. H. (1988) Are Urban Areas a Good Refuge for Wildlife? Zoo’s Print Journal 3(2):12-13