As the Maharashtra government pushes ahead with the Mumbai Metro 3 car shed project in Aarey Settlement, a forested area of the city, conservationists are warning that not just leopards but a host of Other animals and birds risk losing habitat and lives.
Besides leopards, a wide range of flora and fauna species can be found in the Aarey Forest, an 1,800-acre area called the city’s “green lung”, located in the suburb of Goregaon and adjacent to the park. national of Sanjay Gandhi (SGNP).
This rich urban forest is a biotope that is home to newly discovered species of scorpions and spiders, as well as being a treasure trove of birds, butterflies, amphibians and mammals.
Forest Department sources said camera trapping activity had been undertaken at the car depot site which revealed that this particular area is home to at least five leopards. In addition to them, jungle cats, mongooses, monitor lizards and other animals were also filmed.
Founder of Resqink Association for Wildlife Welfare (RAWW), Pawan Sharma, said: “If the process of cutting down the trees for the car shed is initiated by the government, there is a possibility that the leopards are moving to another area of the SGNP, but what about several other animals? They will lose their habitat and, ultimately, their lives.”
Many smaller animals and lesser-known species would be directly affected due to construction activity and deforestation, he said.
In Aarey colony and SGNP, there are about 80 species of birds like Asian paradise flycatcher, spotted owl, peacock, hornbill and night owl. Then, it is also home to around 85 species of butterflies including swordtail, common bottle blue and oakleaf. It is also home to several amphibians like bullfrog, toad, tree frog, fungoid frog and 51 species of reptiles including Indian python, monitor lizard and skink among others, Sharma said.
Five varieties of scorpions, 22 of spiders and 20 types of mammals, including leopard, deer, mongoose, wild boar, langur, macaques, civet, rusty-spotted cat, bats and squirrels, are also found in this area, while around 30 types of wildflowers are also spotted here.
“Aarey is a biodiversity hub located right in the center of town. Most of the animals found here will eventually lose their lives during the felling of the trees and the construction of the car shed,” he added.
Wildlife biologist Anand Pendharkar, CEO of SPROUTS, a wildlife conservation organization, said: “Endemic creatures with small home ranges and which are very region-specific, such as certain species of scorpions and spiders described only at Aarey, may be permanently lost or extinct locally and globally.”
Other ecologically important creatures such as frogs, dragonflies, turtles and grassland and river flora, which are vital to maintaining the life potential of the Mithi River, will be permanently destroyed, he said.
“Furthermore, territorial creatures such as leopards, monkeys or snakes do not easily change location and are likely to return to their original location in the proposed yard, leading to increased human conflict with wildlife” , added Pendharkar.
According to Sharma, in human-animal conflicts, only human beings are unaffected, but wildlife is also impacted by human activity. Before undertaking any development project in a forest area, which serves as habitat for wildlife, a detailed environmental impact assessment is important and should be carried out throughout the year.
This exercise will reveal the number of species that will be affected directly and indirectly, he suggested.
“Developed countries are now cultivating forests and moving towards sustainable development, while we are destroying our green patches,” Sharma lamented.
After coming to power last month, the government of Eknath Shinde ordered the state administration to submit a proposal on building the car shed in Aarey settlement, instead of Kanjurmarg which had been chosen by former Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) dispensation led by Uddhav Thackeray.
In 2014, the Metro-3 car shed was first proposed to Aarey by the then Chief Minister, Prithviraj Chavan, which was challenged by local NGO Vanshakti in the Bombay High Court, with a plea to prevent the cutting of trees in the area.
Devendra Fadnavis, who succeeded Chavan, continued with the same site. But environmental activists had vehemently opposed the felling of trees in Aarey for the carport.
After the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance came to power in 2019, then-CM Thackeray reversed the decision, moving the Metro-3 car shed to a site in the eastern suburb of Kanjurmarg, but he was involved in a legal dispute.
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