As a young boy scout running around in Aarey Milk Colony on a treasure hunt over three decades ago, I never imagined that I would be someday called upon to defend its soothing canopy of trees and the fabulous lakes, gardens, cattle sheds, hillocks and sprawling grasslands from being usurped for mindless urban development.
While I’m not shocked that today’s mall-obsessed citizens are not aware of the ecological diversity that Aarey hosts, it’s surprising that even an internationally reputed organisation such as Rites Ltd (Rail India Technical and Economic Service) - which advises and guides the largest infrastructural projects for the Indian government - mentioned in its Environmental Impact Assessment report that no wildlife was found to exist within Aarey.
Looking through my records, I found that during a morning walk in June 1986, we sighted 55 bird species in Aarey Colony (Unit No. 7) in just three hours. Records from the past 25-odd years show that Chhota Kashmir, New Zealand Hostel, the Goregaon-Powai Road and other sections of Aarey not only have luxuriant trees covered with lianas and orchids, but there are also endless sightings of spiders, moths, snakes, frogs, leopards, langurs, bats, scorpions, amazing monsoon flora, butterflies, beetles and crabs. Not one walk, cycling trip, motorcycle ride or car drive goes by without spotting at least 40 species of birds within the hour.
Due to ease of access and the presence of a fish breeding centre, the Chhota Kashmir garden and lush grasslands, many Botany and Zoology colleges organise short excursions to Aarey Milk Colony to document biodiversity there. It is a favourite haunt of amateur nature photographers, student researchers and ecologists as well.
Going by the preliminary survey reports submitted by students to the local andstate level Forest departments, as well as media reports of wildlife sightings, several species of scheduled and protected species have been reported from Aarey, viz. Indian rock python, Russell’s viper, Monitor lizards, Hyenas, Rusty spotted and jungle cats and, of course, our resident leopards. Not to forget, records of new discoveries such as scorpions, geckos or the rediscovery of some spiders thought to be lost to science!
If rarity doesn’t count, then the more common denizens number in 80+ species of butterflies and hordes of palm squirrels. For bird lovers, there are Ashy prinias, Spotted munias, Golden orioles, paradise flycatchers and Rosy starlings, and the chance to sight the occasional chameleon, vine snake or nocturnal palm civets and Spotted owlets is possible only in Aarey Colony. There are garbage dumps where over 3,000-4,000 Wagtails congregate in April before migrating to Ladakh and other high altitude breeding grounds. Invisible predators such as insectivorous bats, flycatchers, frogs, damselflies and dragonflies living and breeding in and around Aarey Milk Colony keep us safe from dengue, malaria and hundreds of other diseases.
Can we shift and suitably rehabilitate all these creatures? Don’t they have a right to life? These are just some of the questions we need to ponder on. As educated citizens, it is our responsibility to stand up against the mindless destruction of the lives and homes of these creatures. It’s time to join the fight as citizens gather for a Chipko movement at Picnic Point on Sunday, to protest against the felling of 2,298 trees for the Metro III project.
Act now; say no to the destruction of Mumbai’s green spaces.
Anand Pendharkar is an ecologist and founder director of SPROUTS Environment Trust, a conservation awareness and research organisation