Wildlife & Biodiversity

Elephant corridor report plagued with inconsistencies, could escalate conflict with humans, says expert

IISc professor Raman Sukumar stressed on effective management of jumbos in National Board for Wildlife meeting in August

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Thursday 02 November 2023
Photo: iStock__

An expert has flagged multiple inconsistencies in the recently published report on elephant corridors of India by the central government. 

Earlier this year, the central government released a report titled Elephant Corridors of India, 2023, which mentioned an increase of 62 ‘corridors’ in the country since 2010, bringing the total to 150 — a increase of 40 per cent.

However, Raman Sukumar, elephant expert and professor at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), brought up inconsistencies in the definition of corridors in the report during a standing committee meeting of the National Board for Wildlife on August 29, 2023. He warned of opening floodgates for litigation and more human-elephant conflicts.

Read more: Hathi Mitras: Chhattisgarh’s solution to tackling human-elephant conflict

As per the minutes of the meeting accessed by Down To Earth, Sukumar stated:

A corridor is supposed to be a small patch of land that provides connectivity for elephant movement across habitats, largely within a landscape of the elephant reserve.

Since its inception, Project Elephant has aimed to maintain a manageable elephant population on viable landscapes, he said. The focus in this direction could be on landscape, habitats and corridors. 

Landscapes, being an overarching geographical entity, are partly fragmented due to agricultural contingencies, Sukumar explained. The corridors then serve as crucial links between habitats spread across these landscapes. 

Over 30 years ago, Sukumar designed elephant reserves in India, incorporating aspects of elephant conservation, he told the panel. Since then, the concept of corridors has gone beyond its original dictionary meaning.

The minutes of the meeting noted that Sukumar explicitly mentioned, “The original meaning of the corridors has been lost and there is a tendency to call every place where elephants move as corridors,” adding the report has classified landscapes and habitats as corridors.

The minutes of the meeting have noted examples of the same. 

“States like Karnataka submitted documents mentioning potential corridors, which could be 1-2 kilometres long or about tens of hectares of land. On the other hand, states like Jharkhand submitted documents for a vast expanse of corridors. One area referred to as a corridor in Jharkhand is 120 km long and 5 km wide. This means 600 square km, which is larger than most of the protected areas in the country,” the minutes stated.

Read more: Avoiding tragic elephant deaths through policy intervention

A corridor in Jharkhand was documented as being about 46 km long but 30 metres wide. “This means that if a herd of elephants has to walk in this corridor, they should move in a single file. This is a complete anomaly. Similarly, there are anomalies in the case of Odisha as well. For instance, one suggested corridor is 75 km long,” it noted.

Sukumar has approached the High Court of Odisha on behalf of the Odisha Forest Department. 

Another discrepancy observed about the elephant corridors of the north and north-east was regarding jumbos in south Bengal. 

“The areas in West Bengal close to Odisha and Jharkhand, like Mayurjhirna, have only small patches of forest cover that are fit for elephants. The rest of the areas where elephants move in south Bengal are human-dominated agricultural fields. The elephants go to Bankura, East Midnapur, West Midnapur and even Bangladesh. The document suggests linking these areas to other elephant landscapes, which has never been the intent of the word corridor,” Sukumar said.

Apart from defining corridors, there are a lot of inconsistencies in the report in which states have offered suggestions on the merger and incomplete merger of corridors, he added. 

Expansive corridors would significantly escalate human-elephant conflict, which has already become a worrisome situation, he warned. Annual human deaths have already increased from 25 to about 500-600, he told the committee members. 

Read more: There’s a human hand in every tenth elephant death in Odisha

The expansion of range is also causing elephant deaths due to electrocution, falling in wells and entering human-dominated agricultural landscapes. Many states are struggling with the issue of corridors and have submitted petitions for the same, the minutes of the meeting further mentioned. 

The Project Elephant in 2005-06 issued directives to states concerned over corridors for jumbos. The ones in forest areas shall be notified under the rules mentioned under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, it said. On the other hand, areas with revenue lands, private lands, must be notified under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 as eco-sensitive, for which the red-category industries may be prohibited. 

The focus has to be redirected to elephant reserves, Sukumar pressed, urging that it go to landscape-level planning to sustain viable elephant population. Other forms of management are needed for small elephant populations, he also emphasised.

If not done effectively, it can lead to negative consequences for  humans and elephants, he warned.

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