Anthropogenic pressures threaten Similipal-Satkosia wildlife corridor plan

The proposed corridor in Odisha can be connecting link for the survival of endangered species. But mining activities need to be eliminated

 
By Dipak Anand, Syed Ainul Hussain, Ruchi Badola
Last Updated: Tuesday 29 January 2019
Illustration: Tarique Aziz Illustration: Tarique Aziz
Illustration: Tarique Aziz Illustration: Tarique Aziz Illustration: Tarique Aziz Illustration: Tarique Aziz

In 1976, Satkosia in Angul district of Odisha was established as a wildlife sanctuary. It was designated as a tiger reserve in 2007 and comprises the Satkosia Gorge Wildlife Sanctuary and the adjacent Baisipalli Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a paradise of immense scenic charm and is one of the best ecosystems in the country, home to diverse floral and faunal species. The major plant species in this mixed deciduous forests include Sal as well as riverine forests. The area is also a part of the Mahanadi elephant reserve. At present, the area houses some tigers and there are plans to introduce more from other areas.

Importantly, the National Tiger Conservation Authority has identified a potential link for the migration of wild animals from the Similipal Tiger Reserve to the Satkosia Tiger Reserve and has proposed a corridor. It is a very long corridor, but is highly fragmented due to intense mining activities, power stations and a large number of human habitations. According to a study by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, conducted in 2014, there are more than 250 villages in and around of this corridor.

A part of this proposed corridor connects the Similipal National Park with the Hadgarh Wild-life Sanctuary through the Noto and Satkosia Reserve Forests. The other corridor considered to be important for the movement of the animals is the BaulaKuldiha corridor, which is 15-16 km long. This corridor connects the Kuldiha Wild-life Sanctuary with the Hadgarh Wildlife Sanctuary through small hillocks in the Garsahi Reserve Forest, Gaguapahar, Balihudi and Baula hills. This corridor is being used by herds of 20-25 elephants. The Hadgarh-Kuldiha corridor is also being used by small herds of 10-15 elephants.

Thus a connection between the Similipal Tiger Reserve, the Hadgarh Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary forms a U-shaped path that provides a potential movement corridor to tigers and elephants. The movement of elephants has also been observed from Kuldiha to the Satkosia Tiger Reserve. The complete length of the proposed Similipal–Satkosia corridor may not be effectively functional due to several anthropogenic pressures, but from a conservation point of view, it is very important.

Mining disturbances

The Diatari iron ore mining lease of the Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) is spread over an area of 1,018.3 hectares (ha), of which 846.4 ha is forest land. The lease area of this mine spreads through the Keonjhar wildlife division and the Cuttack forest division. The habitat in the vicinity of the mining lease area supports various wild animals, including Schedule 1 species like the Indian Elephant, Indian Wolf, Mouse Deer, Ratel, Sloth Bear, Jackal, Barking Deer, Sambar, Peafowl, King Cobra, Russel’s Viper, Hill Myna, Indian Soft-Shelled turtle and the Large Bengal monitor lizard, according to an Environment Impact Assessment report submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in 2010.

The Daitari iron ore mine has been in operation since 1966. When the lease deed expired in 1996, it was renewed for another 20 years. Though the ongoing operations have no legal validity, OMC has applied for a further extension. This iron ore mine is located within the Similipal–Satkosia proposed corridor connecting two potential habitats for tigers, elephants and other wildlife resources. It is also close to the Similipal–Hadgarh–Kuldiha corridor, which is a vital movement route for elephants and tigers.

For the Satkosia Tiger Reserve, Similipal is considered to be the source population of tigers because of seclusion of Satkosia from other connected protected areas. Conservationists hope that the proposed corridor will help recover tiger populations in the Satkosia Tiger Reserve in the near future. They say further expansion of Diatari mining lease area will pose a threat to the abundance and diversity of flora and fauna and would further worsen the connectivity. From an ecological perspective, the cumulative impacts of mining in this region will further aggravate the sustainability challenges of the landscape due to disturbances, deterioration of forest ecology and alteration in drainage system.

At present, tiger densities in both Similipal and Satkosia are depressed and there is a lack of a source population to ensure tiger occupancy within the larger landscape. With appropriate protection and managerial changes, tiger populations in both these reserves can revive, but their long-term survival would depend on the gene flow between these populations. Therefore, multi-layered strategies will be required to keep this corridor functional. At the same time, there is an urgent need for an assessment of the impact of mining on the wild flora and fauna before clearance is given for further extension of the lease for mining.

(The writers work with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun)

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