Route to carnage

The Karnataka government’s controversial decision to develop the Mysore-Mananthavadi road through the Nagarahole National Park reflects a bureaucratic thinking impervious to conservationist concerns and can only place the endangered wildlife at further risk. The national park has a delightful abundance of wildlife including tiger, leopard, wild elephant, Indian wild dog and Indian bison, spotted deer, mouse deer, wild boar and many species of fauna. As one of the largest habitats of tiger, Nagarhole continues to boast of one of the largest populations of tiger even as other national parks continue to record decline in the numbers of the big cat. While the entire population of tigers in Sariska in Rajasthan has been wiped out by poachers in collusion with corrupt custodians of the forests, other tiger reserves such as Corbett, Ranthambhore, Kanha and Bandhavgarh are recording fewer tigers by the year. Nagarhole, along with Bandipur, Wayanad in Kerala and Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu is part of the largest contiguous wildlife reserve.

What persuaded the government’s Project Governing Board (PGB) to reject the genuine concerns expressed by environmental activists and to even defy the Supreme Court, which had directed an alternative route, is not clear. The PGB also dismissed the recommendation made by the department of forests and ecology which had suggested diversion of the road to skirt the park. The PGB’s decision becomes even more mystifying considering that the alternative stretch outside the park adds only three kilometres to the route while enormously reducing risk and trauma to the animals in the park.

Roads are integral to development and human communication and livelihoods. The Mysore-Mananthavadi road improvement is urgently needed. But construction of roads in fragile ecosystems require great sensitivity as they lead to road kills, modifying movement patterns and possible home range shift that greatly impact on animal population numbers. The Wildlife Protection Society of India has recorded road kill of 24 leopards, five tigers between 1997 and 2002, and 16 leopards, 50 hyena and 46 blue bulls at Vadodara between 1998 and 2004. Closer home, the road kills at Bandipur should have convinced the PGB to opt for a diversion of the road. That it did not, leads one to wonder if the bureaucrats are aware of the global trends of deepening consciousness about environment and conservation even among governments.

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