Jumbo infra projects pose threat to Odisha elephant corridors (Bhubaneswar, India)


Siba Mohanty, The New Indian Express

Date Published

National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) member and elephant expert Prof
Raman Sukumar has called for maintenance of gene flow between Mahanadi
and Sambalpur elephant reserves (ERs) through increased preservation
of corridors and links in these two habitats.

Prof Sukumar, who is mandated with preparing the management plan for
ERs in the State besides assessing their carrying capacity and an
action plan, felt that it is important to come up with a more rational
plan for ERs. Of 14 elephant corridors in the State, he says, not more
than 10 are viable for restoration.

‘’Similipal National Park is compact while Mahanadi and Sambalpur are
too restricted. Originally, the State Forest Department wanted a large
area to be declared as elephant reserve but it is not viable. We are
trying to expand scope of the ERs,’’ he said.

Prof Sukumar was of the view that grey areas are in Mahanadi and
Sambalpur which have a number of corridors and the connectivity is
very important for the Government to preserve.

‘’This can become a larger viable unit. In isolation, Mahanadi is a
good reserve but Sambalpur is too small and fragmented. The elephant
gene flow between Mahanadi and Sambalpur has to be maintained. The
rest of the habitats are fragmented. Keonjhar has got a lot of mining
issues while south Odisha is not in good shape,’’ he said.

The NBWL member felt that linear infrastructure projects such as
railways, road and transmission lines are a necessity but the push to
make four-lane and six-lane roads cause enormous fragmentation.

The road from Cuttack through Dhenkanal, Angul and Rairakhol,
Sambalpur and then Jharsuguda cuts right through Mahanadi ER and
linked to Sambalpur reserve, he said and added that there are still
links and movements which need to be preserved. ‘’If you convert it
into a major six-lane highway without giving any thought to elephants,
these two will be fragmented. We have to avoid that,’’ he explained.

The elephant expert said the corridors and threats must be identified.
If some six-laning projects are planned affecting corridors, foolproof
mitigation measures should be put in place allowing unhindered
movement of jumbos. ‘’However, critical areas should not be touched,’’
he said. Wherever such infrastructure is absolutely necessary, there
is a need to look for alternative routes.

Sukumar said he is not for large scale land acquisition while managing
corridors. ‘’Land is a sensitive issue. We have to identify strategic
small land parcels that hold the corridor almost like thread. In those
areas, we need to do minor surgeries,’’ he said.

Odisha elephants are currently in news because of the ‘Giant Refugee’
campaign highlighting the sad plight of jumbos of Athagarh and