Chandigarh: Chandigarh houses over a million people and now it seems leopards too have found it suitable for a home! Substantial evidence on the presence of the big cats in the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary on the city outskirts has sent a ripple of excitement across wildlife activists and forest officials.
"During the recently concluded wildlife census (Dec 9-11), we have got strong and adequate proof of the presence of leopards in the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary," Santosh Kumar, Chandigarh's chief wildlife warden and conservator of forests, told IANS.
"Out of the eight groups constituted to do the census, seven groups have found the pugmarks of leopards at various places in the sanctuary," he said.
The Chandigarh forest department conducted the wildlife census in association with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, which is the nodal agency for wildlife management in India. The report will be out in two to three months.
Kumar said forest officials earlier believed that leopards followed a migratory lifestyle.
"They came to the sanctuary in search of food and water and returned to the hills in a day or two. But finding their pugmarks uniformly spread over the sanctuary reinforced the notion that some of them must have made it their permanent home."
He said there were instances when leopards crossed over into the sanctuary from the adjoining Shivalik Hills, but they never made it their home.
After finding pugmarks, a trap camera has been set up in the sanctuary.
"WII has taken pictures of pugmarks and is studying them. We have also set up a trap camera in the sanctuary area where we had found maximum pugmarks. The camera will capture the images and activities of leopards. We would check the images of the camera after every three-four days," he said.
He said over 30 trap cameras, each costing of Rs.15,000, will be installed in the sanctuary in the coming days.
The Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary, adjoining rain-fed Sukhna Lake, is spread over an area of 25.42 sq km and is one of the prominent tourist destinations of Chandigarh.
A variety of butterflies, birds and animals like wild boar, pangolin, mongoose, deer, Indian civet, peacocks, Red Jungle Fowl and snakes like the Indian python and Russell's viper have made this sanctuary their abode.
There are 193 water bodies in the Sukhna Wildlife Sanctuary. They continuously feed the Sukhna lake and support wildlife and migratory birds that flock to this sanctuary. The place, which is fenced from all sides, was declared a wildlife sanctuary in March 1998.
"It is the thick green cover and availability of sufficient food and water that attract leopards. We are very happy with this news and it would certainly draw more wildlife lovers to Chandigarh," Puneet Bhalla, a nature lover and wildlife activist here, told IANS.
Visitors have to take prior permission from the Chandigarh forest department for visiting the sanctuary.
Chandigarh, the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, is the only planned city in independent India. Its green cover is 38.8 percent of its geographical area - one of the highest in the country.