Wildlife corridors

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Population explosion in India exerting extreme pressure on natural resources of the country has been a matter of serious concern for not only policy makers but also the planners to meet the challenges posed to ecological balance. Coupled with this, the encroachment on the wildlife habitat has been resulting in increased attacks on the human habitations during the past few decades. Apart from the denudation of forest cover across the country and particularly in bio-diversity rich pockets of the Himlayan belt, Nilgiris and North Eastern Region has been causing concern among the people. In the event of failure of the state governments and the centre in maintenance of resource rich areas, judicial activism has come into play with inputs from the Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) across the country. The highest court of the country has stepped in time and again on these major issues and passed directions to the centre and the states for initiating remedial measures for maintaining ecological balance in the forest areas. In the recent past the Supreme Court’s order to seal and close 27 resorts operating in corridors used by elephants in the Nilgiris is a necessary step to restore the ecology of these spaces. Absence and weak regulation of ecotourism is severely impacting important habitats, and affecting animals that have large home ranges, like elephants. In the North Eastern Region also, the corridors used by the elephants and other wild animals have been encroach not only by the expanding population but also the government agencies in name of development. Carving out of railway lines and highways has been resulting in frequents accidents leading to killing of wild animals on the railway tracks or the roads. Fragmentation of forests makes it all the more important to preserve migratory corridors. The movement of elephants and other wild animals is essential to ensure that their populations are genetically viable, and help regenerate forests on which other species, including tigers, depend. Ending human interference in the pathways of elephants is a conservation imperative, more so because the animals are then not forced to seek alternative routes that bring them into conflict with people. Forests that have turned into farms and unbridled tourism are blocking their paths, resulting in growing incidents of elephant-human conflict. These encounters claim precious human lives and lead to the death of hundreds of elephants in retaliatory actions every year on average. The number of small wild animals is yet to be ascertained because they cannot be counted through human efforts. In a review of elephant corridors published by the Wildlife Trust of India in collaboration with the Union Environment Ministry’s Project Elephant last year, it has been indicated that there are 101 such identified pathways, of which almost 70 percent are used regularly. Almost 75 percent of the corridors are evenly divided among southern, central and northeastern forests, while the rest are found in northwest Bengal and the northwestern region. Some of these passages are precariously narrow, at only a hundred metres wide. These landscape characteristics, and the evidence that there are an estimated 6,500 elephants in just the Brahmagiri-Nilgiris-Eastern Ghats ranges, call for complete protection of the routes they regularly use. It is surprising that the District Collector’s report on 39 resorts in the Nilgiris points to their having come up right under the nose of the Forest Department, the majority without the requisite permissions. These violations should be investigated in detail to check whether there was any wrongdoing. The grey area of mushrooming home-stay structures, which are just hotels on forest fringes, also deserves scrutiny. It is more important that the effort should be to expand elephant corridors, using the successful models within the country, including acquisition of lands using private funds and their transfer to the government. Among the major factors affecting conservation, there is need for urgent remedies because 40 percent of elephant reserves are vulnerable, as they are not within protected parks and sanctuaries. They need to have specific legal protection. Illegal structures in these pathways should be removed without delay for facilitating the migration of the elephants and other wild animals. In fact, human habitations on all forest reserves and their fringes should be cleared at the earliest in order to prevent human-animal conflict.