The congested, noisy, dirty urban sprawl that is sadly typical of most towns, in this case Rewari, gives us no clue what awaits us. But not even 15 minutes out of the town and into the countryside, we are surrounded by the delicate yet dense canopy that is typical of the Aravalli woods.
We halt at the Nandha village in the Khol block of the Rewari district, alight from the jeep-trekking to Jarkhaghati — my purpose of being here. That and the fact that this tiny 3,000 acres of wilderness is proposed to be protected as a community reserve, though currently the file gathers dust.
Let me explain.
Jarkhaghati is a small vale here in the Aravallis inhabited by hyenas, which are called jarkhas locally, hence the name Jharkhaghati. I have a soft spot for these canids, because I hold dear the endearing sight of a pair of hyenas with two tiny ultra-cute cubs, which I chanced upon one night over a decade ago around these parts. And also because this poor animal is misunderstood, often maligned, so much so that even their shadow is supposed to be evil. But as scavengers and mid-level predators, hyenas play an important role in the ecosystem. Studies show that like most animals they are protective parents, and social animals. A study in Africa shows how hyenas form coalitions and learn and follow rules of social status and behaviour, and even solve problems using distraction or conciliation.
I tell you this as we tend to dismiss fellow beings who share the earth with us as animals, forgetting that we, homo sapiens are animals too. Over years of observing animals, I have learnt animals have their own social structures, and kinships, possess language, feel empathy and have thought processes — a topic I will also discuss in my subsequent columns.
But, I digress.
In India, we have the striped hyena, usually found mostly in pockets of scrub forest, often close to human habitations. The Aravallis is a prime habitat for the hyena—indeed they are flagship species, their presence indicating the health of this ecosystem that’s so crucial to our well-being. More so, as it buffers one of the most polluted cities of the world—Delhi-NCR. This ancient mountain range shields our city form becoming a desert, rejuvenates its ground water, protecting us from drought. The mining ravaging and destruction of the Aravallis and its forests have led to frequent dust storms, and spikes in air pollution—as was seen in June this year, directly impacting our health.
Shockingly, most of the Aravallis is classified as ‘gair-mumkin pahar’ or a ‘non-productive wasteland’. No part of the Aravallis in Haryana has been declared a sanctuary, nor do these scrub forests find protection under the country’s Forest Conservation Act. The Aravallis has lost over 70% of their vegetation cover, and 60% of its forests. Haryana also has lowest forest cover, barely four %, in the country.
In the face of this dismal state of affairs, here is an effort to conserve about 3,000 acres of the mountains and foothills as a community reserve under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972.
It’s a tiny area. But within this 12-sq-km it packs in a punch. Besides the hyena, it has jackals, mongoose, monitor lizard, jungle cats, whose tiny pugmarks we saw, peacocks, and the absolutely gorgeous Black Francolin-Haryana’s State Bird.
The local forest department has moved to protect the area. In a heartening initiative, 15 village panchayat’s have come forward to declare this community land which forms a contiguous patch of forest in the hills as a community reserve. They will work with the forest department to manage and conserve the flora and fauna of the area.
The worry is that the proposal has been languishing for nearly three years. Not only should this reserve be notified with immediate effect, but the entire Aravalli range should be given strict protection. Not only for hyenas and other animals, but for the fact that the Aravallis served as our lungs and water shed, an ecological shield without which our city will be reduced to dust-and disaster.