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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Corridor to life being choked

Without passages that allow wildlife populations to travel and interbreed, animals living in these connecting forests and protected reserves have no future. Isolated and depressed, they are also a threat to humans In 2009, I reported the destruction of the Gola River wildlife corridor that connected the Corbett landscape to the Nandour Valley and onwards into the tiger and elephant habitats of Nepal. The Gola corridor knit together a 7,000 sq km expanse of tiger and elephant habitat in Uttarakhand, supporting about 250 tigers and 1,000 elephants — the most vital part of the 20,000 sq km Terai Arc Landscape, identified as one of the three most viable habitats for long term tiger conservation. The corridor, already scarred by mining, anthropogenic pressures and heavy traffic along the Haldwani-Bareilly road, had now been further decimated — first by a railway sleeper factory, then an Indian Oil Corporation’s depot and the establishments of the Indo Tibetan Border Police. It’s gone, now, this vital link, and with it we have lost a golden opportunity to connect the Corbett landscape with the Nandour Valley and the chance to manage the tiger-elephant habitat in Uttarakhand (7,000 sq km) as a single, secure unit. Unfortunately, Gola is not an exception but the norm, with key wildlife corridors being decimated or destroyed by mining, dams, roads, railway lines and canals. The expansion of NH-7, which runs through the Kanha-Pench corridor, slashes through over 60km of tiger habitat, while NH-6 cuts through Navegaon-Nagzira, ripping the ecological corridor that once connected Nagarjunasagar Tiger Reserve to the Central Indian Tiger Landscape. NH-37 circumvents Kaziranga — refuge of the endangered one-horned rhino and with amongst the highest tiger densities in the world — impeding movement of animals to safe, elevated grounds in the adjoining Karbi Anglong hills during floods. The tragic fallout during this year’s flood was the loss of over 600 animals, largely because they couldn’t make it safely across the highway and the habitation onto the hills. The Chilla-Motichur corridor in Rajaji National park has been slashed by highways, canals, railway line and an Army ammunition dump, while the Kosi River corridor which circumvents Corbett has tourism resorts and encroachments blocking wildlife’s access to the Kosi River and the Ramnagar Forest Division. Corridors are critical if tigers, elephants and other wide-ranging species are to have a future. Let’s understand it from the context of the tiger: Most of our reserves are too small to hold genetically viable populations. Corridors facilitate the species’ migration and allow populations to interbreed resulting in genetic exchange that leads to greater health and vitality. According to the Wildlife Institute of India, a minimum population of 20 breeding tigress in a core/critical habitat of about 800 sq km is essential. Below this figure the probability of extinction exponentially increases. Most of our reserves are too small to sustain the minimum ‘safe’ number of breeding tigresses. In the absence of corridors, populations get isolated, causing them to suffer inbreeding depression, leading to disease, overall population degeneration and inevitable extinction. A far more immediate and tragic consequence of habitat isolation is human-wildlife conflict. As large mammals like tigers, and especially elephants, attempt to move between habitats, they are hindered by human habitation and infrastructure in between. Railway lines, expressways, canals, factories, mines, etc prevent them from making safe passage and push them into direct conflict with local people. Crop, livestock and even human life are frequently lost. The number of cases of wildlife roadkills of endangered species, cases of elephant electrocution, trains running over elephants, poisoning of cattle-killing tigers, tigers straying into highly populated areas, crop raiding by elephants, mobs chasing them and people getting killed are all testament to this fact. Today, several parts of the country are locked in a tragic human-elephant conflict situation. One misconception that must be erased is that corridors are ‘protected areas’. Corridors do not have to be pristine parkland but could, in fact, include agricultural areas, orchards, tea or coffee plantations, and other multi-use landscape — just as long as they are “wildlife permeable”, to provide for safe passage. It is important, however, to factor in wildlife concerns in land use plans or development activities in wildlife corridors and landscapes. around wildlife corridors. We know that when we push tigers further and further into tiny pockets, we seal their fate. Tigers and elephants in isolated forests, with no remaining corridors connecting them to other forests, are caught in a genetic dead end. We cannot claim to protect our wildlife and then write off their corridors, break apart their landscapes. Development imperatives must take into account wildlife concerns. Conserving habitat corridors through policy, legislation, and appropriate mitigation measures is the need of the hour given the growth imperative and the associated growth in infrastructure development. Else, let’s bid them goodbye — the tiger, the elephant, the others: All symbols of our natural heritage. (The author is a member, National Board of Wildlife)

Dudhwa likely to miss Nov 15 date with tourists

TNN | Nov 1, 2012, 04.41AM IST LUCKNOW: With just 15 days remaining for the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve to reopen for tourists, forest officials are not sure they will be able to do so. Every year, the park closes on April 15 and opens up for tourism on November 15, after six months closure during monsoons. But this time, the UP forest department is not sure whether it will be able to keep the deadline as it is yet to work on the new set of guidelines sent by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to all the tiger-states, including UP, to regulate tourism inside national parks. Tourism inside core areas of tiger reserves was banned by the Supreme Court in July owing to the fact that it was jeopardizing the safety of tigers, not more than 1,700 of which remain today. However, on October 16, the apex court lifted its interim ban on tourism inside core areas of tiger reserves, after NTCA framed and notified guidelines for tiger tourism under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The guidelines permit tourism in 20% area of the core of the tiger reserves. "We have received the new guidelines only two days back and are scrutinizing them word by word," said Rupak De, PCCF (wildlife), UP. Though the officers are trying to complete the process as soon as possible, since the matter pertains to compliance with the SC order, meeting the November 15 deadline is a secondary issue. "We can talk more clearly on this may be in a day or two," added De. So far, the entire core area of Dudhwa, comprising 117 square kilometre of Dudhwa and 80 square kilometre of Kishenpur sanctuary, was open for tourists. But, this time around, the reach of the tourists will be restricted. Forest department is yet to identify the areas which will be open to tourists, after the implementation of new guidelines. Though this might reduce the chance to spot a tiger in the wild, the department plans to add to the tourists' experiences by way of improved hospitality. After chief minister's active interest in developing Dudhwa as a better tourist hub, UP Awas Vikas Parishad has re-done the Tharu huts and rest houses at the tiger reserve. The accommodation has been provided with better furniture and improved interiors. Approach roads have also been renovated on the directions of the government. On the other hand, in compliance with the Supreme Court's order, the forest department this year has also notified the buffer area in the Dudhwa National Park. Nearly 1,100 square kilometre has been notified as buffer in the park. Tourism in buffer area also needs to be regulated. Officially notifying the buffer also requires Dudhwa authorities to plan for the management and development of the buffer area. This, in turn, will increase the area for movement of tigers. Dudhwa tigers are distributed in one major and three smaller populations. Major population is constituted by Dudhwa reserve which includes Dudhwa National Park, Kishenpur and Katarniaghat wildlife sanctuaries and forests of Pilibhit, north and south Kheri.