March 18, 2017
Satyasundar Barik, The Hindu
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Noted expert R Sukumar roped in by government to prepare management plan
Ten of the 14 proposed elephant corridors identified to facilitate unhindered movement of jumbos and prevent their inbreeding have been found viable for restoration in Odisha.
Raman Sukumar, noted elephant expert and professor at the Centre for Ecological Sciences at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, said not all the 14 elephant corridors identified by the State government can be restored for a variety of reasons.
Prof. Sukumar has been roped in by the State government to prepare a management plan for elephant reserves, assess carrying capacity of forests with respect to elephant population and firm up an action plan for the future.
‘Need to be realistic’
“We are assessing which are the viable corridors that can be protected and strengthened for elephant movement. There is no point in drawing a line on a map identifying corridors. We need to be realistic,” he said speaking to reporters here recently.
“I am not in favour of large-scale land acquisition. Land is a very sensitive issue. We have to identify very strategic area that holds the corridor almost like a crutch. We will require small land parcel to stitch the corridors,” he said.
Odisha, which houses 70% of the total elephant population in eastern India, is witnessing frequent human-elephant conflicts with 423 elephants perishing since 2011-12 and 421 humans deaths reported during the same period.
Elephants move long distances in search of food and require substantial areas to support their ecological needs. The wildlife wing of the State forest department says habitat loss, expansion of human habitation and fragmentation of traditional elephant corridors have forced elephants to split into a number of metapopulation.
To protect elephant habitats, the State government had identified 14 corridors having a cumulative length of 421 km and a total area of 870.6 sq km.
Odisha has three elephant reserves – Mayurbhanj, Mahanadi and Sambalpur. “Mayurbhanj reserve is quite rational with compact and contiguous forest patches. Other two elephant reserves, Mahanadi and Sambalpur, are too restricted. Keonjhar, another major elephant area, is hit by mining, while south Odisha is not in a good shape,” said Prof Sukumar.
He said all linear infrastructure projects such as railway roads and transmission lines cause enormous fragmentation. Engineering structures of road projects should allow animals to cross roads.
The State government has already conducted a survey to find out the width and broad land use of the 14 corridors using satellite imageries. Besides, ground-truthing and demographic survey have been done to know the number of human population in these corridors. In addition to the 14 corridors, nine more corridors have also been identified.