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Glancing at Ashokan Wildlife: Biodiversity Around Plot No.2

Nandan Kaushik, UG’22

Pictures by Ronith, UG’22, Aditya, UG’22, Nandan Kaushik, UG’22

Ever wondered about that colourful bird you saw on that tree on campus the other day?

Or maybe you freaked out at a grasshopper on the stairs once, but wondered why it was here at all?

Curious to know more about the biodiversity around campus, I spoke to Aditya Satish and Ronith, of the UG 22 batch. Aditya is a Chem major and Ronith a Bio major. Both are EVS minors, and have been into birdwatching and passionate about wildlife for years.

Indian Spotted Eagle, by Ronith

Aditya and Ronith have explored the area outside campus quite thoroughly. When I asked them how many times they had gone out to explore, they laughed. Over thirty times at least, Aditya wondered. Ronith thought it was closer to fifty. But they agreed that it was at least once, if not twice a week, between August 2019, and March 2020, when we evacuated campus.

The two of them have together explored the area around Ashoka, with occasional visits to the Yamuna river bank, both in Delhi as well as at the UP-Haryana border (about 12 kilometers West of Ashoka). Though their focus has been on birds, they have sighted some mammals, reptiles and insects too.

Over all these visits, they were pleasantly surprised at the number of bird species they have managed to record – 118, which, they comment, given the habitat, is quite impressive (the region around Ashoka is composed of a mix of dry scrub grassland, and agriculture land, with a few lakes scattered through the plains). The most common bird species, they say, are feral pigeons, Mynahs, lapwings and doves, while the rarer sightings include a Peregrine Falcon, a couple of Indian spotted Eagle (one in the fields), Eurasian wryneck, Oriental turtle dove, Brown shrike, sulphur-bellied warbler (the last two being only the second sighting of them in all of Sonepat!) as well as a mating pair of Egyptian vultures.

Peregrine Falcon, by Ronith

“We saw a ton of them near the Yamuna bank” Ronith says, speaking of the vultures. The roosting spot of this pair around campus is unknown, but they are regularly seen around the area of Ashoka.

The insect species (equally impressive, they say) include various mantises, beetles, bugs, dragonflies, grasshopper, katydid and crickets, butterflies, moths, and arachnids.

The grasshopper season is August – October, they informed me, which is why, last year, there was a spike in their numbers, around the monsoon. As winter sets in, however, they move on. The eggs hatch the following year.

Among Amphibians, they have spotted Common Asian toads, Indian skittering frogs and Indian bullfrogs.

Of Reptile species, Indian Wolf snake, that in fact, they spotted on the way back from the mess to their residence;

Brahminy blind snake – that looks like a worm at first glance.

And a spectacled cobra that Aditya once spotted in the fields.

Brahminy Blind Snake, by Aditya

Aditya narrated a story of how, once on the way back from a birdwatching trip near Ashoka, a farmer stopped them and asked to know what they were doing. He then told them that a snake had just been seen in a ditch. This was just outside campus, and so they excitedly ran over – only to see that it was a Checkered Keelback that had been beaten to death and tossed into the drain.

Reptiles also include the very common Garden Lizards and the House Geckos.

While mammals in the region (excluding the domestic dogs and cats in and around campus, of course) are few, those that they have seen are Indian grey mongoose, Jungle cat and Nilgai (commonly known as Blue bull).

A herd of Nilgai live around campus. Interestingly, they are viewed as a menace by farmers as they frequently ravage their crop. The Nilgai are quite large, yet at the same time, extremely elusive in the tall grass.

What about leopards? I ask. Any chance of seeing one around campus?

It’s unlikely but not impossible, was the response I got. Leopards are seen all over the country and are extremely adaptable. Near the UP-Haryana border, leopards are known to move between forests in the region. Especially considering the fact that this region is habituated by Nilgai, the chances of seeing a leopard is not a long shot.

However, the Rajiv Gandhi Education city is expanding. While there may be only a handful of Universities now, construction continues, and the region remains earmarked for the construction of more. As human habitation expands over what was once large open space, we are likely to see many of these species migrate to other areas and a dwindling of their numbers here. They are not likely to stick around if the conditions are not conducive. Human-Wildlife conflict is rampant even now, as illustrated in the cases of the Nilgai and the crops, or snakes and farmers.

Ashoka is situated at an extremely interesting junction, both in terms of time and space. We have an environment that fosters so many species, right under our noses. But over time, this is likely to change. We need to be aware of what we have now, so that we don’t lose it all.

For a full list of birds around campus:

This article is brought to you by The Edict, in collaboration with Tarang, the Environment Ministry at Ashoka.

The Edict is committed to a more environmentally conscious readership, and together with Tarang, we aim to offer more coverage towards that end. We believe it is necessary for environment and climate issues to warrant greater and better journalism in order to spark conversations long overdue, about the world we live in.

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