Tale of Guwahati: A City’s Biodiversity

Text & photos by Dr. Jayaditya Purkayastha

It is estimated that the urban population of developing countries is growing at a rate of five million people per month. Roughly 70% of the global population is expected to be urban by 2050, and the total urban area is expected to triple between 2000 and 2030. During the past 50 years, the population of India has grown 2.5 folds and the urban population five folds.

But are these urban landscapes really without wildlife? It depends on how we define wildlife. For most, ‘wildlife’, the term itself sets the mind where we start thinking of a place covered all around by tall elephant grasses, with tall trees in between accompanied by many big illustrious, self imposing mammals. But, is that all? Indian Board for Wildlife defines wildlife as “The entire uncultivated flora and fauna of the country”. Now we see that anything that we have not sown or reared is a part of wildlife, from the smallest ant to the huge banyan tree. Our innate obsession with big and colorful creatures makes it hard to recognize small and less charismatic species.

In a state like Assam, where the whole wildlife conservation story revolves around Indian One-Horned Rhino, the mega mammal myopia is to be expected where we find it hard to look beyond big and charismatic mammals. Whatever is the case, nature will not discriminate between its children and every organism is thus endowed with a special role and place in the ecosystem, however tiny it may be. Recent SARS-CoV2 outbreak emphasizes this very point where the most genetically advanced animal was overwhelmed by a mere 65–125 nm COVID19 corona virus.

With the increase in human population across the globe, there is a rapid decline in forest cover. In India, around 25% of the geographical area is under forest cover, but there is a continuous decline. Now, these green covers are giving way to concrete jungles. Guwahati, the economic hub and the gateway of Northeast India is no exception to the rule. But as we see, Guwahati is not completely devoid of wildlife.

Ecologically, when one species is exterminated from a particular geographical area, there becomes a void which again is filled up by some opportunistic species. These organisms now can competently share these urban cities with us giving rise to what we call as ‘urban wildlife’. To notice one of such kind, we even need not go out of our houses. It’s our overlooked tailed inmate, the house gecko. These lizards not only share our home but also help us by feeding voraciously on different types of insects including mosquitoes. The densities of these geckoes are much higher in human settlements because of one of the finest creation of Thomas Alva Edison, the electric bulb. We light bulbs, the bulbs draw insects and the insects draw geckos which feed on them. Beautiful relationship!

Coming back to my city, the Guwahati city, a landmass with 18 hills, eight reserve forests, two wildlife sanctuaries, a Ramsar site along with the mighty river the Brahmaputra makes it a cherished place to live in.