Survival, free movement of pachyderm population possible only if connecting corridors are revived, restored
In a recent verdict, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the Government of Odisha to notify the proposed corridors for free movement of elephants in the state. It is a great decision. The proposal had been pending for a long time before the forest department but no action had been taken till now.
The definition of ‘corridor’ differs from species to species. For elephants, they constitute a narrow and short stretch of forest through which the animals can move from one habitat source to another.
Proposed but not notified
In January 2010, the Odisha government had identified 14 corridors to be notified for the safe movement of elephants. These were:
These corridors, when notified, would be 420.8 kilometres long and spread over an area of 870 sq km, connecting Jharkhand, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh with Odisha.
In 2010, the Odisha forest and environment department had proposed Rs 54 crore to be spent over the next five years. No plan has been executed on the ground since then. Hence, no connectivity has been ensured to the animals for their free movement.
With no elephant corridors in place, more and more elephants are falling in wells, dying on train tracks or falling victim to retaliatory attacks after straying from corridors.
More than 840 elephants have died since 2012 due to human-elephant conflict, according to a state government report. The state forest department reported that elephants killed 660 people, damaged 8,000 houses and destroyed 87,403 acres of standing crops between April 2010 and March 2015.
Reality on ground
If the direction given by the NGT is implemented, it would be a great relief to the species as well as the surrounding human population. But the current scenario demands a plan that would work holistically.
The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, published a report titled Landscape Sustainability Challenges in West Singhbhum region due to collective mining regime: Mining – Wildlife habitat linkages and Impacts in 2016.
It recognised three of the corridors namely Karo-Karampada, Badampahar-Karida and Badampahar-Dhobadhobin that connect the forests of Jharkhand with those of Odisha.
The Karo-Karampada corridor connects Karo and Sidhamatha Reserve Forest in Odisha with Karampada Reserve Forest in Jharkhand. The terrain is hilly and dominated by mines. Before intense mining in this area, elephants used to prefer such a corridor for movement. But currently, it has been restricted.
Badampahar-Dhobadhobin corridor connects Badampahar Reserve Forest of Odisha with Dhobadhobin Reserve Forest of Jharkhand. Occasionally, small herds of elephants use this corridor for inter-state movement.
Mining activities (iron ore and china clay) in the Badampahar Reserve Forest affect elephant movement in the corridor. Other factors include human encroachment and linear expansion.
The last one is Badampahar-Karida corridor that connects the Badampahar Reserve Forest of Odisha with Karida East Reserve Forest of Jharkhand, thereby maintaining elephant movement between Similipal Tiger Reserve, Odisha and the Mosabani Range of Jamshedpur Forest Division, Jharkhand.
Elephant movement has greatly reduced between Badampahar and Dhusura Reserve Forests due to mining in Badampahar Reserve Forest. The WII project report identified these corridors to be potential ones for maintaining the viability of the elephant population.
Matter of concern
The main factor impeding the movement of the animal population is the mining activities as reported by the WII study. According to the Right of Passage, Elephant corridors of India report, the ecological priority of the Badampahar-Karida and Badampahar-Dhobadhobin corridors is low but that of the Karo-Karampada corridor is high.
Also, conservation feasibility for these corridors is in the ‘medium’ category. Currently, public and private mines are working in these corridors and several others are in the queue either for extending the lease area of working mines or seeking approval from the environment ministry to excavate more virgin forest patches.
If all proposed mining leases get clearance from the ministry, it would choke the corridors completely and subsequently, the elephant movement from Jharkhand to Odisha.
What more should be done?
Conservation of species on the ground, in an efficient way, can only be done when one adopts a multi-boundary approach. Without landscape connectivity, our small protected areas will only end up being islands of conservation with unviable populations that will be highly prone to extinction.
Just notifying the corridor in a boundary would not be sufficient for sustaining such a long-ranging herbivore. Long-term survival and free movement of the elephant population in the landscape can only be possible if the connecting corridors are revived and restored efficiently.
The corridors should be notified on an urgent basis by the state forest department and legally protected under an appropriate law. Action should be taken to prevent illegal mining and construction activities and there should be proper analysis for all the proposed mining leases within the corridor area.
The legislature and executive must look after these speechless creatures according to the instruction given under Article 48-A of the Indian Constitution.
Views expressed are the authors’ own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth
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