As human population increases, the demand to acquire land to convert it into an agricultural or residential area goes up. Much of this land lies in remote regions, an important factor to make it more economical to the end buyer. But it is in these remote regions, far away from human settlements, that wildlife thrives, since time immemorial. When these unprotected wild spaces and scrublands are taken over for “development” it displaces native wildlife and disturbs the denning ranges of lesser mammals like the Indian Fox, Jungle Cat and Indian Jackal.
The difficulty in finding safe dens and raising young ones is amplified during the process of land development. Workers are employed, who live on site as watchmen, or construction teams work in different shifts, ensuring that the land is never left unoccupied. There is a concern for safety in these remote and isolated areas, and the workers who live there keep dogs for company. These free-ranging dogs team up with feral dogs in the vicinity and start roaming the land in search of food, in the process chasing away or hunting any wildlife they come across.
The first process of development is levelling the land, thereby clearing the surrounding scrub, leaving wild animals such as Indian Foxes, Jungle Cats and Indian Jackals vulnerable to threats from feral dogs. They usually den on a bund with multiple entries as it makes it safe to exit in case of some danger. The levelling process destroys all the bunds in the surrounding area, making them homeless. The animals, however, are territorial and are usually not seen moving far away from the places they have been living in.
As land development gains momentum, an interlinked underground drainage system is built. The connected pipes are not more than a foot in diameter, while the depth of the drain is around four feet. As soon as the process is over, usually a year later, the workers abandon the land and by then then the scrub grows back almost everywhere. Metal caps that cover the drains are stolen, leaving behind uncovered drains. This is when the lesser mammals regain their territory, and they now have better and safer options for dens. They end up using the underground drainage system to live and start denning as feral dogs can’t get into the pipes. Although the pipes are hardly a foot tall, they are inter-connected across the entire stretch of the developed land, with multiple entry and exit points.
Over a period of five years, we have observed Jungle Cats use these drains to raise their young. They change their den within a span of 10-15 days and don’t tend to use the same drain over a period of time. The case isn’t the same for Indian Foxes, as they tend to choose drains that have good visibility and are close to areas where food is available abundantly. In one situation a fox made its den under the shoulder of a gutter that had collapsed. It looked like a safe place as the opening only had enough space for the cubs to get in and out. Foxes usually venture out during the early morning or late evenings when visibility is very less. The adult fox is seen scanning the area for any lurking dangers before venturing out to get some food. It would at times sit on the culvert and observe if it was safe to call the young ones out of the den to play, and only when the time was right would the young ones step out for a while.
As time passes the land developers come back and start clearing the scrub again to make the layout useable and, in the process, chase these animals away. The animals in turn look for new and safer areas to raise their young. As human population increases the population of these lesser mammals reduces drastically and as the demand for more land sets in, the animals lose access to wild spaces. A lot has been done to save wildlife in protected areas, but no attempts are being made to save the wildlife of unprotected scrublands, even though these animals provide an ecological service by keeping the local rodent population in check. Some restrictions around land development in remote areas should be enforced before it is too late, and we are only left with fond memories of these wonderful beings.