Every evening when I walk my dog near Cookson Road (in north Bengaluru) where I live, I see at least four species of butterflies, hear/see five species of birds and of course spot the most commonly seen wild mammal – the squirrel or the three-striped palm squirrel. All this when I am not even looking for wildlife!
Surprised? Yes, urban areas like Bangalore have a wealth of wildlife. Unfortunately, people living in cities are often unaware of their ‘wild’ co-habitants. One will be surprised to learn that many wild creatures have adapted to the metropolis.
When I try and tell people about urban wildlife, they usually laugh and say, ‘Oh, you mean pigeons’. But there is a lot more to it. Cities are very similar to wild ecosystems as we know them. There are different habitat types in the variety of architectural styles of the buildings, designated green spaces, sewers and drains, water bodies and so on. There is also an abundance of food. All these factors make it an attractive habitat.
Rose Ringed Parakeet, Indian Rock Pigeon, House Crow, Large-billed crow, Greater Coucal, Black Kite, Asian Koel, Common Myna, Jungle Myna, White-cheeked Barbet, Purple Rumped Sunbird, Great Tit, Common Tailor bird
Lime butterfly, Tailed Jay, Common Bluebottle, Two spot Grass Yellow, Common crow, Common Mormon, Blue Mormon, Plain Tiger, Striped Tiger, Blue Tiger, Common Rose, Angled Castor, Common Emigrant, Common Jezebel, Common Banded Awl, Zebra Blue
Three-striped palm squirrel, Indian Flying Fox
A host of animals, birds, reptiles and insects have adapted to this habitat and are thriving. In fact a few hardy species have become well-known urban pests, like the house shrew, house rat, cockroach, silver fish and house fly, because they have adapted so well to the smoggy, built-up habitat that humans have built.
And coming back to the Pigeon (The Indian Rock Pigeon), how many of us realise that they originally found the city inviting because food was plentiful and predators scarce. In addition, building ledges provided plenty of fine nesting spots.
Urban wildlife is largely undocumented in India and plays no part in our town planning. The importance of urban wildlife cannot be ignored for long. Recently a rare species of spider of the tarantula family (Poecilothera torantula) was found in Bangalore. There are no earlier records of this species. However, world-wide scientists are paying more attention to urban wildlife, in part because cities are one of earth’s most rapidly growing habitats.
Recording wildlife in Bengaluru
Over the past few months newspapers and television channels have been filled with sensational stories on the decline of wildlife in India, especially the plight of the tiger. This has generated a lot of activity in our urban centers, Bangalore included, where thousands of people sign petitions that appeal to the government to save and conserve our wild heritage.
Whenever I see such programmes I am at first struck by the enthusiasm of the participants. However after a few minutes reality sets in and I wonder how much the educated urban dweller really knows about wildlife. To them ‘wildlife’ is usually found in some distant jungle, far removed from them. The general impression I get while listening to people talk is that the threats to our wildlife are mostly from people who live close to these distant jungles and that all the urban populace can do is to pressure the government to take necessary steps. How wrong they are.
Maybe I am a little prejudiced as I have recently moved to Bangalore after spending two decades in the wilderness areas of India. Having lived and worked among wildlife, I can vouch for the ineffectiveness of such campaigns.
However, the enthusiasm of the urban-dweller needs to be harnessed and how is the best way to do that? The answer is simple – by starting from where we live.
Can we really save wildlife by focusing our energies on a city like Bangalore which is an ‘urban or concrete jungle’?
The study of urban wildlife is almost unknown in India and this is where we the urban dwellers can play our part.
We need to determine what wildlife still exists in and around our urban areas, and then try to optimise what’s there, and also educate others about urban wildlife. A wildlife-informed and educated public puts pressure and demand on developers to plan wildlife-friendly projects.
- Plant more trees and shrubs. Remember, vegetation is the key to attracting a variety of wildlife. Dead trees (snags) are especially valuable to wildlife, try to keep them on your property if they pose no safety hazard
- Set up a birdbath, garden pond, or other source of water. A safe place to bathe and drink will act as a magnet to many animals
- Add bird houses, or better yet, try to leave snags on your property. Cavity-nesting birds have been especially impacted by urban development. A bird house of the proper dimensions can substitute for snags where these birds used to nest – for example the sparrows that were once abundant in our homes
- Get your neighbors interested in urban wildlife as well
As residents of Bangalore we can also start by recording our urban wildlife and then learning about their natural history. We can encourage schools and families to take more time to teach children about the city’s hidden wildlife. The most important thing is education. Groups like Bangalore Birds conduct bird walks, through which one can get familiar with the species found here.
Urban wildlife is a great way to introduce children to the natural world and teach them about how it works. And as these birds and animals all around us we can channelise our energies from signing petitions into something more constructive and meaningful. We can directly participate in saving our wildlife. We in urban India are used to going to the zoo to see wildlife. With a little bit of effort we should be able to see them right in front of us.
I hope some urban planners are reading this, Vikram. Hashim
I’m so glad to see this article here! Looking forward to more from you, Vikram.