How ‘development’ eats into paths of elephants (India)


Seema Sharma,Times of India

Date Published
Jumbo rules in tiger hotbed CorbettTo save Rajaji tigers, Gujjar relocation mustForest officers cling to Rajaji, refuse transferFree jumbo rides delights orphans at Rajaji Tiger ReserveGovernment terms Kaziranga animal corridors ‘revenue villages’

DEHRADUN: A single elephant needs 80 sq km to roam in; a herd would need 400 sq km. If the habitat of these large creatures is fragmented, then even bigger space would be needed. In all, the country is estimated to have about 25,000 elephants in the wild. Only 27% of these use protected territories, while the other move about in areas riven with corridor problems. Across the country, 180 elephant corridors have been identified under Project Elephant. Uttarakhand is home to about 1,797 elephants; it has 10 important elephant corridors.
State chief conservator of forests Dhananjay Mohan said that the fragmented habitat or corridor blockage is caused by human settlements or development projects. Elephants, finding their paths blocked, could then move into human habitations, creating conflict. Smooth movement across elephant corridors is necessary to maintain the genetic pool of elephants.
Sushant Chaudhary, retired scientist who has worked on elephants while serving at the Wildlife Institute of India, told TOI, “Cash crops are being grown throughout the year. So elephants get attracted to them, as they provide easy food and water. About 60% of the funds from Project Elephant go towards managing human-elephant conflict. Little is left over to manage the area of the elephants or even conduct research. What is more, even the funding under Project Elephant has been curtailed. Only Rs 120 crore of the Rs 600 crore approved has been released.”
Chief wildlife warden DVS Khati said that the wildlife department is working on clearing some important corridor impediments. The aim is to clear the corridor that connects Motichur range of Rajaji Tiger Reserve (RTR) to Chilla range of the same reserve. This corridor is a crucial link between forests on the western and eastern sides of River Ganga. There is a road (NH 58) and railway (Haridwar-Dehradun railway section) traffic, settlements including an army establishment, Chilla Power channel and the anthropogenic pressure on corridor forests. People from Khandgaon have been relocated, barring few families. An overpass is being built.”
AK Singh, senior official with Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), talked of the other nine corridors in the state: “Gola river corridor connects Terai East and Terai Central forest divisions. This one has been choked with several development projects. Traffic on Haldwani-Lalkuan highway NH 86 and railway line, encroachment, ITBP camps, railway sleeper factory and Indian Oil Corporation’s depot and boulder mining in the Gola river area pose challenges. Regulation of mining in corridor areas is quite important.”
Kansrau-Barkot corridor connects Kansrau range of Rajaji to Barkot and Rishikesh ranges of Dehradun forest division. Tinpani corridor connects Motichur range to Rishikesh range. However, there is vehicular traffic on NH 72 and anthropogenic pressure in this area. Now, an overpass is being constructed on the highway that passes through these corridors. Song river corridor connects Motichur range of Rajaji to Gohari range. This is crucial for connectivity between forests on the western and eastern sides of the Ganga. However, traffic on the road (NH 58), settlements, and the Chilla power channel pose problems.
Rajaji-Corbett corridor is plagued by the expansion of settlements and industries, traffic on the Najibabad-Kotdwar-Dugadda road and Najibabad-Kotdwar railway track. The river Kosi corridor connects Corbett and Ramnagar forest divisions. In this area too, the elephants face traffic on NH 121, expansion of resorts and the expansion of the boundary wall by a factory. Relocation of the Chukam village on this corridor is also a proposal.
The Nihal-Bhakhra corridor connects the forests of Ramnagar division with the Terai Central division, providing a buffer to the spillover population of tigers from Corbett and Ramnagar forest divisions. The challenges for conservation of this area for elephants come from the Haldwani-Kaladhungi road.
The Kilpura-Khatima-Surai corridor connects these three ranges of Terai East forest division, and extends from Mahof range of Pilibhit Tiger Reserve and Sharda range of Nandhour Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Khatima-Tanakpur highway NH 125 and railway track and Sharda canal pose problems here, besides encroachment.
The Boom-Brahmdev corridor connects the forests of Haldwani forest division in India with Kanchapur forests in Nepal. Pilgrimage and sand mining have been eating into this elephant corridor.