Wildlife & Biodiversity

India bats for safekeeping elephant habitats, but is it ready itself?

India proposes putting Asian / Indian elephants in Appendix I of CMS CoP 13 in Gandhinagar

By Ishan Kukreti
Published: Tuesday 18 February 2020
The aim is moved at conservation of elephants. Photo: Shayantan Vera

India has proposed putting mainland Asian / Indian elephants in Appendix I of the United Nations Environment Programme's Convention (UNEP) on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) at the ongoing 13th Conference of Parties (CoP). The move is aimed at promoting conservation of the species. 

Article III (5) of the convention generally prohibits Appendix I-listed species from being removed from their natural habitat, with some exceptions.

In India, however, elephant reserves and corridors have no legal sanctity under the Wildlife Protection Act (WLPA), 1972. The act mentions only national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, conservation and community reserves (collectively called Protected Areas).

Unlike the Protected Areas, elepnat habitats are not secure and their land can easily be diverted. Elephant reserves or corridors not covered under the WLPA or (as eco-sensitive zones) under the Environment Protection Act, are out of the purview of any National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) — such land are at risk of being diverted for mines, polluting industries, etc.

If the area is a forest, it is covered by a Forest Advisory Committee.

Prime elephant habitats are being diverted for mining, such as in Hasdeo Arand in Chhattisgarh’s Sarguja district and Talabira in Odisha’s Sambalpur district.

In its proposal, India said it wanted the species in Appendix I because its habitat was shrinking. The proposal said: “Mainland Asian elephants/ Indian elephants are large, social, intelligent, endangered and long ranging migratory animal, which are trying to survive in continually shrinking, degraded and fragmented habitat.”

Interestingly, in the proposal, the Indian government has told the CMS secretariat that forest land diversion in Protected Areas has to be scrutinised by the NBWL, but doesn’t say anything about Elephant reserves and corridors not given the status of Protected Areas.

The proposal, while being silent on the lack of concern for elephant habitat within India, points fingers at neighboring countries. It said:

Unlike India, Asian elephants are not provided high degree of protection in other Asian Elephant Range Countries. Elephants during their migration to Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Burma are vulnerable to poaching for ivory and food and/or capture for use as captive elephants. There have been reports of elephants being poached for their skin in Myanmar.

"Asiatic elephant is an Appendix I species under the WLPA. We have come to know about the elephant corridors and reserves lacking legal sanctity under WLPA, and that concern has been noted," Inspector General (Wildlife), Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Soumitra Dasgupta told Down to Earth.

 R Sukumar a member of the NBWL and elephant biologist told Down to Earth, “The question about whether to put elephant reserves under the WLPA or EPA has been going on for sometime. I personally feel that the they should be notified as Eco Sensitive Zones under the EPA because there areas have many people living there too."  

Till 2012, forest land diversions in elephant reserves required clearance from the NBWL, but due to the complex legal nature of the reserves, they were brought out of the preview of NBWL. 

“While it is not necessary for elephant reserves to come to NBLW for clearance, in my experience, many project proposals come to us for clearance, like recently there was such a project in Assam. However, it cannot be said if all the diversion cases in elephant reserves are coming to the NBWL,” Sukumar added.   



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