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Nature Elephants Must Forget

Discussion in 'Breaking News' started by spnadmin, Aug 25, 2009.

  1. spnadmin

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    Jun 17, 2004
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    Elephants Must Forget
    The steady erosion of the Gola river forest corridor threatens the very survival of tigers and elephants in the Terai region, says PRERNA SINGH BINDRA

    [​IMG]AS TRADITION demands, the foundation stone of the railway sleeper factory was laid in January 2007 by invoking Ganesha. At the auspicious hour, hymns were chanted, chandan smeared, ghee poured and flowers showered over the benign elephant god. Ironic, and certainly inauspicious for the elephant. For the factory stands right in the middle of the critical Gola river elephant corridor (GRC). An elephant corridor is a long-term natural migratory route that elephants use to travel between two forests. The GRC links 7,000 sq km of contiguous wildlife habitat in Uttarakhand, which has over 180 tigers and 1,000 elephants, concentrated in the Corbett Tiger Reserve and the Rajaji National Park. This is the most significant part of the approximately 20,000 sq km Terai Arc Landscape (TAL), identified by the All India Tiger Estimate as one of three “viable habitats for the tiger’s long-term survival”.

    But is there a future now? It’s questionable. The blocking of the GRC marks the end of a grand dream, of conserving the unique eco-diversity of the Terai — a green ribbon stretching from the Kalesar Sanctuary in Haryana to the Parsa Wildlife Reserve in Nepal, within which lie a string of protected areas linked by forest corridors. “Bottlenecks like Gola fragment the habitat — rendering the free movement of wildlife impossible. In the long run, this will lead to the extinction of wide-ranging species like tigers and elephants,” says Dr AJT Johnsingh, former dean of Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India and scientific advisor to WWF (India).

    The Gola river corridor, which ensured animal movement from Corbett all the way to the Nepal border adjoining Tanakpur, was one among 10 corridors identified as crucial to conservation efforts, by the Wildlife Institute of India in 2004 and again by the state forest department in 2005. It was already fractured – disrupted by boulder mining along the Gola river, the fast-developing town of Lalkuan and the heavily trafficked Haldwani-Bareilly road. Still, a green sliver, no more than a kilometre or two wide, remained to offer passage to endangered wild creatures.

    As part of the Shivalik Elephant Reserve, the corridor is a key area for elephas maximus, the Indian elephant. In contrast to most areas where poachers have decimated tuskers, it has one tusker for three to four females. Equally significant, as part of the Rajaji-Corbett Tiger Conservation Unit, it has been identified as one of the Level-1 areas for the long-term persistence of tigers.
    Choked forest corridors and fragmented habitats have put elephant and man on a collision course However, an onslaught of destruction has all but obliterated the passage. The sleeper factory was only the beginning. The real killer is likely to be the Indian Oil depot next to it, with a massive 15- feet wall encircling a bustling storage complex — an impermeable physical barrier for animals. The IOC avers that they have leased the land from the railways and have all the required clearances. And in 2008, the forest department gave away the last 34 acres of reserve forest to the Indian Tibetan Border Police (ITBT). The net result of all this is that the corridor has ceased to exist. It’s hard to even imagine that tigers and elephants once walked this path. Employees from the paper mill spill onto the narrow, busy streets of Lalkuan; the sleeper factory works 24x7 to fill its quota of 60,000 sleepers a month and tankers line the gate at IOC. The ITBT complex looks deceptively innocent since it is currently housed in tents, but I am assured that walls, wires and concrete structures will soon replace these. The Bareilly road is to be made into a four-lane highway. Adding insult to injury, the forest department is now undertaking an “afforestation drive” in the ITBT camp. The tigers and elephants of Corbett simply have no place to go.

    Though the state Forest Conservation Act affirms that a No Objection Certificate (NOC) from the Chief Wildlife Warden is imperative in matters of clearance or land transfer concerning the Shivalik Elephant Reserve, the Chief Wildlife Warden, SK Chandola, maintains that “since it wasn’t a protected area, [his] words do not carry weight”. Also, while the state of Uttarakhand has endorsed the documentation of elephant corridors (including the GRC) by the Wildlife Trust of India, Vivek Pandey, the current District Forest Officer (Terai East), denies knowledge of the corridor’s importance. “Critical areas are occasionally signed away in ignorance as officers are not kept informed,” says Pandey, who says the NOC for land transfer to the ITBT was issued by his predecessors.

    The real killer is likely to be the Indian Oil depot, an impermeable physical barrier for animals But the corridor is gone, and with it, we have lost a golden opportunity to connect the Corbett region (4,000 sq km) with the Nandour Valley (1,800 sq km) and the chance to manage the tigerelephant habitat in Uttaranchal (7,000 sq km) as a single landscape. The consequences, in the long run, will be fatal. Tigers need to disperse from the forests they are born in, if they are to breed successfully and be genetically robust. Despite all our hue and cry over ‘saving’ tigers, we have failed to grasp the basic principle of conserving them: creating inviolate spaces and maintaining connectivity between these spaces.

    SADLY, THE GRC is not the only casualty in the mad flurry of unplanned, ill-considered development. Most corridors identified in the Terai are being choked with impunity, and fragmented habitats have put man and elephant on a collision course. Along the Gola, a small population of pachyderms, locked into an isolated forest patch in Kishanpur range, are creating havoc in the nearby fields. The conflict has lethal consequences elsewhere in the state, too. In the nine years since the formation of Uttarakhand, over 150 elephants have died, nearly half of them in accidents on heavily trafficked roads. They are also poisoned and electrocuted to avenge damage caused to human property and life. The toll is heavy on both sides. Forty people have lost their lives to elephants between 2000-2007. Tigers straying into human habitation are also being poisoned, as in a recent case near Corbett. The tragedy will only escalate as we continue to erode corridors and island habitats.
    It will require monumental effort and political will to give the Gola river corridor back to the forest. But if we fail, we will have signed away the future of the tigers and elephants we say we cherish.

    From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 34, Dated August 29, 2009
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