ISLAMABAD: As the human residents of Islamabad retreat to their homes under the coronavirus lockdown, wild animals feel emboldened to leave their hideouts and make an appearance.
Freed from human encroachment, species which for a long time have not been seen in the Margalla hills have now emerged.
“We have seen approximately 30 percent more wildlife at Margalla Hills National Park,” Dr. Anisur Rahman, chairman of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board, told Arab News. “Wildlife was already there,” he said, “but it was unobserved because of frequent human visits.”
The scenic park, which extends over more than 17,000 hectares, is one of the most popular leisure destinations for the Pakistani capital’s dwellers, who normally disturb its original inhabitants every day with considerable foot and car traffic.
“There are three hiking trails and thousands of people each day used to go for a walk on those trails. Also, there are some popular restaurants in the middle of the park and hundreds of vehicles enter to reach them,” Rahman said.
Over the past five weeks when the park has been closed to the public, some of the animals that have turned up have proved to be endangered species that were feared to have disappeared from the region. Among them is the leopard, one of the world’s most endangered big cats.
In late March, only days into the capital city’s lockdown, Islamabad Wildlife Management Board cameras started to spot leopards. “We have seen three leopards in the park, and they all were in different locations, far away from each other,” Rahman said.
In a very short time the wildlife department was able to learn about the park’s inhabitants and their behaviors much more than it would have during years of research.
“The spring is mating season for birds, and during the lockdown we have captured on our cameras their rare mating dances,” Rahman said. “Now we are in the process of analyzing all video footage and the department will be able to share some data or statistics on wildlife in the coming weeks.”
Social media posts about animals, especially monkeys, frolicking through Islamabad’s deserted streets have enchanted many people, creating an impression that nature is reclaiming what was hers. But the reality is somewhat less romantic.
“We have seen an increase in the number of monkeys at the park and it just has no capacity to produce enough food for them,” Rahman said. The monkeys now seen on the streets and entering private estates had been used to human food; they subsist on the leftovers when visitors come to the park and when its restaurants are open.
However, narratives that animal populations will retake Islamabad are naive.
While humans are still out of the picture on the trails of the Margalla hills, despite the Islamabad administration’s decision to reopen parks on Tuesday the rhythm of urban life will soon be back to its “normal” pace, and animals back to their hideouts.