From a barren land to a lushgreen sanctuary, Aravalli comes to life

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From a barren land to a lushgreen sanctuary, Aravalli comes to life

Shibaji Roychoudhury | Mail Today | New Delhi, December 26, 2013

From a barren piece of land in 2004 to a lushgreen sanctuary hosting birds, mammals, reptiles, rare ayurvedic plants, butterflies and other insects, the Aravalli Biodiversity Park is the most incredible ecological transformation that Delhi has seen so far.

Spread across 692 acres of land, the park in Vasant Vihar is currently hosting 20 distinct forest communities (group of tress). “In approximately eight years, since the plantation began in 2005, the biodiversity park has become a home for over 1,000 different species of plants, 190 species of birds, 90 species of butterflies and over a lakh species of insects and 24 species of reptiles,” said Dr M. Shah Hussain, ecologist and scientist in-charge of the park.

Each of the 20 forest communities in the park include around five to six rare trees, different types of grass and herbs and 15 to 20 species of plants that pump oxygen into the atmosphere. “The park plays a significant role in the conservation of the capital’s environment.

From cutting carbon dioxide and other gas emissions, to acting as dust traps, recharging ground water and promoting cloud formation and local precipitation, the forest’s existence is largely responsible for the smooth proceedings of many natural events,” the ecologist said.

Like all forest reserves, this park also maintains three-level food chain system. “Every single forest community accommodates three levels of food chain – plants, herbivorous and carnivorous beings (animals, birds and insects) – to maintain the natural balance of the habitat,” Hussain said.

The sanctuary is also home to reptiles such as monitor lizards, snakes, chameleons and mammals like jackals, blue bulls, porcupines and others. Other highlights of the park are a bat cave, an orchard, a butterfly garden, a fernery and a medicinal plants conservatory.

“At this point, the park is only meant to preserve various life forms and is not open for public. However, we do encourage educational trips into the park. We plan to open certain sections of the park for the people but that will not happen before 2015-2016,” said Hussain.

The ecologist said there are plans to develop a rock garden, a cactus house, an arboreta (a garden where many different types of tree are grown, for people to look at or for scientific study), a tropical rain forest and a conservatory of bulbous and tuberous plants. “The cactus house will include a collection of rare cactus species. In the arboreta, 75 to 100 species of trees that flower in different seasons will be planted,” he added.

The tropical rain forest will be created in a series of interconnected pits extended to a length of 500-600 metres and depth varying between 40 and 100 metres. The width will vary between 100 and 200 metres, said Hussain.

Till eight years ago, the south-central ridge (now the park) was barren land used for mining of mica, sandstone, china clay and gravel. However, in 1996, the Supreme Court issued an order forbidding the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) from allowing any construction activity in the region. In 2004, the DDA decided to develop the area into a bio-diversity park and today it’s the green pride of the Capital.

Butterflies find a new home

They may not visit your garden anymore but the butterflies are very much there in the Capital. The Aravalli Biodiversity Park in Vasant Vihar has become the new home of butterflies, which had started disappearing from the city a few years ago. According to the Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE), their garden is hosting about 90 species of butterflies, some of them extremely rare and breathtakingly beautiful.

It is the first-of-its-kind butterfly garden which boasts of hosting rare species such as Lime Butterfly, Indian Fritillary and Striped Tiger. The Grass Jewel, the smallest butterfly in the world, can also be found in this garden.

“The garden has 450 host plants which have been helpful in attracting over 90 different species of butterflies.

We have deliberately conserved weeds and wild grass to make a perfect habitat for these day-flying insects,” said Dr M. Shah Hussain, ecologist and scientist in-charge at the Aravalli Biodiversity Park. Hussain said butterflies are incapable of surviving in extreme temperatures as they are sensitive to both heat and cold. The CEMDE maintains regular supply of water in the garden in order to control the level of humidity.

According to biologists at CEMDE, curry leaf tree, lemon and other citrus fruits, asclepias or milk weed varieties, ageratum also called white weed, nerium and bael tree attract maximum number of butterflies.

The park has played a major role in bringing back the butterflies which had started disappearing from the city. In 2005, when the garden has just been started, barely 14 species of butterflies could be sighted there.

“The transition has taken a lot of time, research and effort. We started growing host plants and some varieties of weeds which supported butterflies. We also collected caterpillars from the plants and shifted them to a butterfly nursery where they were preserved till they turned in to fully grown butterflies and then they were released outside. We continue to follow the same routine even today,” Hussain said.

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