Fragmented forests, unsafe corridors

Fragmented forests, unsafe corridors

India is home to an estimated 27,312 elephants, according to the 2017 elephant census.

Far from providing elephants with safe passage between their natural habitats, elephant corridors have become death traps for the mighty pachyderms. According to data provided by the Ministry for Environment and Forests (MoEF) to Parliament, nearly 50 elephants were killed in the elephant corridors over the past four years. It does seem that human-elephant conflict, which these corridors are meant to avoid, continues. India is home to an estimated 27,312 elephants, according to the 2017 elephant census. While elephants are not an endangered species, their shrinking numbers are nevertheless worrying. Poaching of elephants is illegal, but it continues unabated. Shrinking forest cover is an issue of concern as this reduces the area over which elephants can roam freely. Even more worrying is the fragmentation of forested land. Animals like elephants migrate over hundreds of kilometres annually but with their natural habitat becoming fragmented, such migration has become fraught with dangers. Animals are forced to cross areas inhabited by human beings, resulting in man-animal conflict. Such encounters often result in loss of human and animal lives. It is estimated that over 400 people are killed annually in encounters with elephants. Crops and property worth millions of rupees are damaged, too. Elephants are killed, too, by speeding trains or electrocution of fences around crops.

It is to reduce such deadly encounters that around 101 ‘elephant corridors’ were established. However, as figures indicate, elephants are getting killed in these supposedly ‘safe’ corridors. “Right of Passage: Elephant Corridors of India,” a study conducted by the Wildlife Trust of India, points out that humans are encroaching into animal corridors. Just 1.8% of elephant corridors were found to be free of human settlements in 2017. Two-thirds of eleph­ant corridors are affected by agri­cultural activity and only 12.9% of them are totally forested. Thus, most elephant corridor land is vulnerable to man-elephant encounters.

Establishing elephant corridors alone cannot protect our pachyderms. The corridors need to be actively protected from human encroachment and infrastructure development that hinders elephant migration. Trains mow down several elephants each year. Between 1987 and July 2017, for instance, 266 elephants were mowed down by trains. Hence, the Centre and state governments must reduce construction of roads and railway lines through elephant corridors. Studies reveal that 20% of India’s elephant corridors have a railway line running through them. Where these railway lines cannot be avoided, the tracks should be laid as overpasses. Conservation of animals cannot succeed without involving local communities. It is imperative that people are made aware of the importance of survival of elephants and other wildlife to the survival of man.

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