Who owns the land?

Conservation

Who owns the land?

One of the females is alarmed as domestic dogs appear at the water hole barking at the elephants. What next? See pictures below Photos by the author

“This is my land” said the man in his mid-40s with dark sunglasses and a red hat. He was getting a survey done of land that was recently bought to set up a resort and spa centre. “I am doing this for conservation,” he pointed out. Little did he realise that his planned resort was precisely what wildlife conservation is not about.

The land he was getting surveyed is in the middle of one of the last remaining wildlife corridors in Bandipur. Pugmarks of tiger and wild dogs crisscrossed the piece of land. Elephant dung was strewn across the land parcel. A nullah flowing at the edge of the land created a sheltered place for animals to move from the tiger reserve to Satyamangalam and Mudumalai through these swathes of scrub forests.

As part of the government’s efforts to bring investment into the tourism industry, a single window system has been set up to clear projects; a laudable approach. However, using these three words, the government gave away this wildlife corridor. One wishes the project clearing agencies realised that this was also one of the last windows for elephants to move from Bandipur to Lokkere, Upkarabetta and further to forests in Tamilnadu. With increased disposable incomes, wildlife reserves have become favoured weekend and holiday getaways. To cater to this urban demand, several resorts have mushroomed around some of our important protected areas. Though it is important to develop infrastructure for tourism, strict codes are indispensable. Some tourism resorts are becoming a challenge for wildlife conservation with some of the projects cutting off wildlife migratory corridors.

Prime corridor

For instance, Bandipur has about 5,000 acres of forests on land that belongs to the revenue department. This land forms part of the prime corridors for wildlife to move from eastern parts of Bandipur to Satyamangalam and Mudhumalai in Tamilnadu. Though for a layman this can look like patches of scrub, they hold all the large vertebrates that Bandipur has in its core.

Mega herbivores such as elephants move across vast areas to meet their food requirements. Hence conserving these forests is critical for protecting the corridors.

Breakage of these corridors will affect movement and also increase human-wildlife conflict. Apart from total loss of habitats, wildlife faces restriction on their movement due to the electric fences and physical barriers installed by the resorts. Sometimes the only sources of water for wildlife will be cut off leaving the animals to move to agricultural fields to find water.

Before the nine percent growth mantra these forests had little or no value, with villagers showing little interest in these properties. Now with these lands being high worth real estate, it has pushed people to even encroach land en mass to be further sold to construct resorts.

Villagers make a pecuniary fortune for a few days, city dwellers get their holiday resorts and the entrepreneurs will fill their kitty. I wonder what wildlife gets. Whose land is it anyway?

Forest and revenue department have now taken keen interest in conserving these land parcels. These areas form part of the buffer zone of Bandipur Tiger Reserve and recently notified as eco-sensitive area. Hopefully wildlife will soon have a right over these lands. 

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