GUWAHATI, July 15 - Guwahati, the capital of Assam and the Northeast�s lone metropolis, still boasts of wide-ranging wildlife, including some globally endangered species � a rare occurrence for any city.
Rapid and unplanned urbanisation, along with encroachment and the resultant green cover loss is, however, pushing this fascinating wildlife to the brink.
Even the tiger had a noticeable presence in the city�s forests till the 1970s, and as late as the early 1990s a stray tiger could be encountered at places like Garbhanga reserved forest (RF). Leopards and elephants continue to have a sizeable presence in the city even today.
Despite its diversity and abundance, the city�s wildlife remained unstudied and hence little appreciated. Accidental death and mob killing of straying leopards have been common over the years even as there has been no effort to document the leopard population.
Leopards apart, sighting, capture and occasional killing of animals like deer, pangolin, civet cat, jungle cat, python, fox, wild boar, etc., are also reported.
While sighting of the leopard and the elephant still occurs frequently well within the city limits despite the fact that much of the natural habitat has been lost, the rhinoceros and the gaur (Indian bison) too can be found just outside the city�s municipal limits, says wildlife expert Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury.
�The chances of witnessing species like gaur are remote as expansion of human settlement and shrinkage of forest cover have forced the animals to seek the safety of the deeper recesses of the jungles,� he said.
There are as many as 16 reserve forests and a wildlife sanctuary besides Deepor Beel bird sanctuary in and around the city, covering an area of approximately 548 sq km. And ten of these RFs, including Amchang wildlife sanctuary, constituting a territory of 270 sq km, are very much within the city�s municipal area.
�Till the 1970s, a few tigers were always encountered in Kalapahar, Fatasil Ambari, Kahilipara, Panjabari, and Khanapara in Guwahati, and in Mandakata, Sila and Agyathuri hills in North Guwahati. Once common in Garbhanga, Rani and Amchang, the big cat is no longer found in these habitats,� Dr Choudhury said, adding that pug marks could be seen in those areas till the early 1990s.
As for the rhino, it had a small but permanent population at Kuruwa, at the north-eastern riverine edge of the city till the 1970s. Stray rhinos from Pobitora still occasionally visit the chaporis (riverine sand bars) of the Brahmaputra towards the north-east of the city.
�Stray rhinos visiting Tatimora Chapori was a regular feature till as late as 1996. The Amchang hills � now a sanctuary � located just a few km towards the east of the city still has a small population of the majestic gaur (Indian bison). It�s a matter of privilege for the city,� he said.
A few more gaurs can still be seen in the Garbhanga and Rani RFs.
Till a few years back, the hoolock gibbon, an endangered species and India�s only ape was seen at Amchang and the possibility of its existence in the core areas cannot be ruled out even today. �The hoolock is very likely to be having a habitat inside Amchang sanctuary,� he added.