Friday, December 11, 2020

Golden jackals make airports their homes

Jamir Ali runs a tea-stall at Paschim Rajbati village, four kilometres from the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport on the outskirts of the eastern Indian metropolis of Kolkata. A canal behind his thatched-roof shop carries the waste dumped from the neighbouring households and meat shops fighting for space. Solid waste lies scattered close to the canal and street corners. The 50-year-old tea seller said that golden jackals (Canus aureus) start moving in packs once the evening sets in but have hardly been a cause of trouble to anybody.

They consume food waste that’s discarded in the area, because of which, Ali claims, they “keep the area clean”. “Garbage vans do not come regularly to collect the waste, and it lies around on the ground for days. Jackals consumed the dumped food. They have never caused any trouble for us,” Ali claimed.

At the airport a few kilometres away from his shop, the jackals do not have as accepting an audience as Ali. Senior officials at Kolkata airport said jackals are a challenge to aircraft operations. And the efforts by the forest department and NGOs to capture and rehabilitate them have so far been not very successful. “There have been sightings of jackals at the Kolkata airport. Their numbers cannot be ascertained. As they pose a serious threat to aircraft operations, we had sought help from the forest department for their rehabilitation,” said Kaushik Bhattacharjee, director, NSCBI Airport, Kolkata.

“The forest department had suggested trapping the jackals in cages with baits. Accordingly, we installed several cages, but very few could be trapped. We sought help from wildlife experts to rehabilitate the jackals present inside the operational area of Kolkata airport,” Bhattacharjee said.

Earlier this year India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation highlighted that in the light of COVID-19 restrictions leading to reduced human activity and lower aircraft movements at airfields, they may be an increase in bird/wildlife that forage, feed, and nest within or near aerodromes. It noted that because airports are placed on the fringe of large urban areas they frequently have large tracts of unused and undeveloped land as safety buffers which are attractive to bird/wildlife species, particularly as suitable habitats shrink due to urban expansion.

In India, the golden jackal is found in most protected areas, semi-urban and rural landscapes of the country, except in the high elevation regions of the Himalayas. Certain pastoral areas in western and northern India, which have abundant livestock also support high jackal densities. Due to their tolerance of dry habitats and omnivorous diet, they can live in a wide variety of habitats. Golden jackals are opportunistic and often venture into human habitations at night to feed at garbage dumps or scavenge on livestock carcasses. Golden jackals, Indian wolves, Indian foxes, and hyenas need grasslands, scrublands, open/barren lands, and ravines.

At the Kolkata airport, experts associate jackal sightings in the airport area with the availability of food and improper disposal of waste in the fringe villages such as Paschim Rajbati. The animals also find shelter in old, dilapidated buildings inside the airport. In addition, the grassland cover in the 1670-acre airport makes it conducive for jackals. The jackals were earlier present in Kolkata’s satellite areas like Rajarhat and New Town; with residential complexes springing up in these townships, the canids are now being increasingly spotted in villages close to the airport.

11/12/20 Mongabay/

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