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How Scientists Created A Jungle In Delhi, Protecting Thousands Of Endangered Species

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By Amita Bhaduri

It’s July now and the temperature is slowly dipping in Delhi. Only a few migratory birds that wintered at the Yamuna biodiversity park remain. Others have left for Central Asia and Siberia. Some species of summer terrestrial migrants are expected to arrive while some others can be seen enjoying the park’s wetlands. “Red-crested pochard, a magnificent bird with a red head and an orange beak, has left,” says Sameer Gautam, an education officer at the park and also an ornithologist.

The arrival of this bird after a gap of over 15 years was a great feat and is indicative of how the ecology of the park is improving,” says Gautam who is currently studying the nesting places of black-crowned night herons. “The herons stand still at the water’s edge where they hunt for food mainly at night or early in the morning. The wetlands provide a great habitat for the species which is quite sensitive to changes in habitat structure and composition,” he informs us.

Sharing memories of early days, Dr Faiyaz A. Khudsar, the scientist-in-charge of the park, speaks about how the concept took root and proliferated. “It has been 15 years since the park was first created in the Yamuna floodplains of Delhi. The park sprawls over an area of 457 acres on the flat alluvial floodplains of the Yamuna near Jagatpur village in the upstream of Wazirabad reservoir. The Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems, Delhi University, with support from Delhi Development Authority, developed the park through the allocation of land and grants,” he says.

The Park Is A Saviour

The repeated metallic tinkering like call of the bird has earned it the name Coppersmith. (Image: K Koshy, Flickr Commons, CC BY 2.0)
The repeated metallic tinkering like call of the bird has earned it the name Coppersmith. (Image: K Koshy, Flickr Commons, CC BY 2.0)

In a city which has very high concentration of particulate matter, the importance of a biodiversity park is immense. It has also emerged as a conspicuous centre for environmental education and is home to biologically rich wetlands, grassland communities, diverse fruit yielding species and several medicinal herbs,” says Faiyaz. He and Dr C.R. Babu, an influential ecologist in India, were keen on preserving the ecological integrity of the area and worked hard to bring the park to what it is today.

Gautam, who is very enthusiastic about the park, showed us indigenous, naturalised and cultivated plants of various genera that are present in the park. “The floodplain was destroyed over time and its verdant forests, grasslands, wetlands and wildlife were lost. The introduction of exotic species, Prosopis juliflora, locally known as vilayati keekar, a thorny shrub in the barren areas of Delhi ridge and the floodplain wiped out over 500 native species of Delhi. The native flora and fauna that used to exist 100 years ago, which had gone missing locally, are being re-established now,” Gautam lets us know.

The park acts as a natural conservation site for a specific group of endangered plants and its environment is conducive to the survival of carnivores. The nature reserve now houses about 2000 plant and animal species living in some 30 biotic communities. There was much for us to learn and the park is used for environmental education by local schools,” says Dr Ekta Khurana, a scientist working on creating this new ecological habitat.

How The Park Came Into Being

Recreating the ecological conditions (valleys, ridges, etc) and developing biotic plant communities (on the artificially-created mounds) were long and painstaking processes. Since the soil is saline, only salt-loving plants like Sueada fruiticosa could grow here. We used grasses like Leptochoal fusca to alter the soil pH from 10.5 to 7.4. After the soil became neutral, we added farmyard manure prior to planting species. Nature took its own course,” says Dr Khurana, while providing detailed accounts of the monitoring of ecological changes.

Sameer Gautam shows me around the area of the park where they bank seed genes of indigenous plants—a repository of genetic materials to preserve genetic diversity. I also got to see khejari, the tree of life, a native species of Delhi. There are also native trees like teak, mitragyna, adina, dalbergia, etc. There are wetland marshes created to impound the floodwaters. The mounds in the middle serve as a habitat for several resident and migratory birds.

It is facinating to note that by the year 2010, most of the trees had attained canopies. It is hard to believe that a natural environment like this could be created so quickly on the Yamuna banks. “The rate of colonisation by plants and animals in the middle of a large city exceeded our expectations,” says Gautam. “The park is able to support animals like civet, mongoose, hares, nilgai, jungle cat, wild pig and many other species,” he adds.

Over 196 resident and migratory bird species have been recorded in the park. Eurasian Scoops Owl, European Roller, Golden Orirole, Eurasian Wryneck, Asian Paradise-flycatcher, Indian Peafowl and Common Rosefinch can be easily spotted,” Dr Khurana says.

The phase-II portion of the park, which is an active floodplain, is connected to phase-I, an inactive floodplain, through a narrow corridor. “The phase II project which comprises a mosaic of wetlands is lagging because of administrative issues like demarcation of land,” says Dr Faiyaz.

The park restricts entry to keep the impact of visitors to a minimum. But those who get to visit get valuable lessons in what ecology means.

A version of this article first appeared on India Water Portal, a digital media platform that shares knowledge and builds communities around water and related issues in India.

The picture is of the Great Cormorants that are a common sight in the Yamuna Biodiversity Park during winters. Source: Sahapedia

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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