Build bridges across forests

Cheetahs maul and kill and are captured; tiger skins seized; elephants intrude into cities and kill people and destroy property; 132 people and 143 elephants killed during 2007-2012.

Such news stories have become alarmingly frequent. These convey a developing race between man and the forest denizens. The latter are accepted to be an important and essential part of world’s civilised existence but we do not seem to act accordingly in our social and governmental attitudes and practice. Growingly, habitats for the wild are shrinking and man is unthinking and the governments are winking and at worst are highly cupid and are in league with the land grabbers’ recklessness and unconscionableness. Along with this shrinking, the greater culprit has been the growing fragmentation of wild habitats.

The wild animals need very long and ranging spaces with sufficient width. They need to walk and run long distances in search of forage, prey, water and mates. The increased land grabbing with or without government sanction has added to their unfreedom and lack of scope. And the forest fragmentation has forced them to trespass into human habitats, towns, villages and agricultural lands.

Handle with care

The growing conflict between man and the wild has to be handled with care and imagination; electric fencing and poisoning of animals are anti-civilisational. Offer of significant compensations to villagers losing their crops and livestock is frequent and in this context of governmental succour, there is quite a likelihood of official corruption and bureaucratic delay. Politicians too make their officious contribution and further clutter the flow of benefits to the distressed and possibly make a pile for themselves and their henchmen. In this category of conflict between nature and man and official-political machinations, come the time restrictions on traffic through sanctuary habitat roads.
Banning of commercial and passenger traffic along highways passing across forests during nights is unimaginative.

What is to be done to reconcile the interests of wildlife in sanctuaries and human activities otherwise? In India particularly, space for both humans and wildlife is decidedly limited; the needs of the already huge population and the concomitant livestock get factored in. Development needs good multilane roads and their unhampered all weather and all time use. For this we have to build many bridges across forests even as we build increasingly many bridges across rivers.

River water flows unhampered if there are bridges and similarly, bridges or flyovers across forests allow for free passage of the wild in their habitats in search of fodder, prey and water. Forest development plans must incorporate designs for provision of these forest flyovers and as far as possible, all the forests in the country have to become connected or defragmented allowing for indefinite lengthening of wild ranging space. Incidentally, the recent Karnataka government proposal to add a further area of 1255.64 Sq. km to its sanctuary forests is welcome; the need for defragmenting these sanctuaries is more urgent.

There is another dimension to this concept of flyovers across forests and indefinitely increased provision of roads and ranging spaces for forest denizens. Rain water harvesting for the benefit of wild animals as well as for ground water replenishments may be undertaken. The design of forest tanks, their catchments and imaginative utilisation of the existing forest topography are all requiring to be integrated and pursued.

With the increased emphasis on tourism particularly wildlife tourism, forest denizens are getting disturbed and threatened. Tourism income and not preservation and augmentation of wildlife have gained priority. This is a matter of attitude and is crying for being reversed. As for the creation of employment and generation of incomes, the maintenance and construction of flyovers and forest water holes provide abundant scope. In this context, eco-biological treatment of sewage from towns, villages and cities has to be considered.

The tendency or practice of readily leading sewage into nearby tanks and rivers has to stop and instead these sewage lines have to open to deliberately designed canals equipped with non-mortar lining and suitable vegetation on either side of these canals facilitating bio-detoxification. These well planned sewage canals along with the suitably chosen vegetation on either side will provide a habitat for wild birds and possibly fishes. These provisions will certainly contribute to forest symbiosis. Without these perspectives, any policy of preservation of wild life will remain inadequate.
(The writer is a former professor of Mysore University)

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