Animal highways

  • Securing safe wildlife corridors across borders must be a conservation priority

May 23, 2016-

News of parched animals from the Indian plains migrating to Nepal en masse emerged this week amid reports of the highest ever temperature recorded—of 51 degree celcius—in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. A long dry spell in India is said to have triggered the mass migration. Officials say that elephants, swamp deer, tigers and leopards have entered Nepal in search of food and water. The animals have mostly migrated to the Suklaphanta Wildlife Reserve and the Bardiya National Park in the Mid- and Far West. While Nepal was not spared by the severe drought induced by El Nino, rain in April brought a respite for animals and humans alike.

Some of these migrations took place on the 3km long Khata forest corridor located in the Tarai Arc Landscape (TAL) between Nepal and India. In 2000, the Khata corridor was identified as a critical area for restoration, with related work starting in 2001. Today this corridor, which connects the Bardiya National Park with India’s Katerniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary, plays a critical role in wildlife conservation.

The TAL project, spanning nearly 50,000 square kilometers and covering 11 protected areas in both countries, continues working on maintaining corridors for wildlife crossings. However, with the clearing of forests for agriculture and logging and building of roads and other infrastructure, these natural corridors have been obstructed.

Uninterrupted wildlife crossings and seasonal migration are critical to the survival of endangered species. As such, the future of animals like tigers, elephants and rhinoceros depends on the success of initiatives like the TAL. But there are other corridors that also need to be secured. Last year, Nepal, Bhutan and India signed a framework agreement to create corridors across the Kanchenjunga Landscape that spans the three countries. India and Nepal have also recently joined hands to secure the key Boom-Brahmadev corridor that connects the Haldwani forest division in the Uttarakhand state and the Sukhlaphanta Reserve in Nepal. The corridor is vital for a safe passage for wild animals, including elephants and tigers.

Securing a corridor can be complicated in cases where highways, power lines or railway tracks have been built through protected areas. Even then, an out-of-the-box thinking can yield a simple solution. Creating an animal highway or ‘ecoducts’ over the physical infrastructure can restore the broken links for migrating animals. Singapore and several states in the US have tried and tested this concept.

With human settlement expanding, a lot of the thick forest cover has been replaced by agricultural land and wildlife habitats have been restricted to small jungle patches. Animals do not understand borders;  yet they need to cross them in search of food, water and habitat. It is the collective responsibility of the governments and people from transboundary regions like ours to secure the corridors that are so vital for wildlife preservation.

Published: 23-05-2016 08:46

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