A footage of a leopard, Khalij pheasants and porcupine seen on Trail 6.
A footage of a leopard, Khalij pheasants and porcupine seen on Trail 6.

ISLAMABAD: As nature begins to heal itself after a drop in human activity, the wildlife in Margalla Hills has started to reclaim the preservation area in the hills – a nocturnal leopard even ventured out during the daytime.

“Porcupines, Khalij pheasants, foxes, and wild boars roam freely, which used to be unusual because under ‘normal circumstances’ there would be traffic [in the area] that pushed the wildlife into the bushes,” Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWM) Chairperson Rina Saeed Khan told Dawn on Sunday.

The IWMB completed a study in April that helped define a leopard sanctuary, stretching roughly 10 square kilometres. The board was readying to conduct another study this year since the habitat has been restored – there were higher than usual sightings of pheasants dancing, ambling porcupines, and foxes trotting.

Earlier this month, the IWMB released fresh images from camera traps set up in the leopard preserve area showing the apex predator roaming and occupying spaces that they would normally avoid due to trekkers and hikers.

In a first, porcupines, Khalij pheasants, foxes, and wild boars roam the area freely

Since the leopard preserve is closed to minimise the outside disturbance, the IWMB has been taking visitors to Trail 6 on guided tours. “We don’t want people to disturb the place…[since] now it’s completely rehabilitated. A few species that we did not expect to see in the wild have come back as well, especially after the rains have filled the ponds and streams,” the IWMB chairperson said.

After a six minutes’ video presentation, groups of 10 to 15 were taken into the leopard preserve for educational purposes. “The guides teach you to read pug marks, show you trees where monkeys like to feed, the information you cannot learn otherwise,” she said, adding, “It’s for education, enjoyment of nature, peace of mind, walking quietly, [and] encouraging ecotourism.”

Fayaz Khan, who was on a guided tour with his wife, said they felt as if they had been transported to another time before people started intruding. “You could not ask for a better…,” he said.

Ecosystem restoration is in full swing in the leopard sanctuary — from Kalinjar, behind the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) cantonment area till Trail 6 near the Faisal mosque. Although Monal, Trail 5, and areas near the Quaid-i-Azam University are denser parts of the Margalla Hills National Park, Ms Khan dismissed rumours that the predator was spreading out.

Talking about trails 3 and 5, the IWMB chairperson said that a large number of people visited these treks and it was next to impossible to stop them from littering. The only sound coming from these trails beside the wind is of people talking out loud and playing music, she added.

Asma Khan, who visits Trail 5 regularly since it was first opened to the public a few years ago, said that the wildlife on Trail 5 was rarely witnessed as “animals hang back at the edge and move in the shadows” due to the human activity in the area.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2022

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