As instances of human-elephant conflict rise, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has embarked on a massive project to identify and secure elephant corridors in the country.
The corridors could also be notified in order to give legal protection to the movement of elephants.
According to Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav, the Ministry has “recently initiated the verification exercise of elephant corridors and is also working on mapping land use and land cover of elephant reserves in the country using GIS technology which will also aid conservation”.
Experts said elephant corridors have been changing over the years. Eighty-eight corridors were identified jointly by the Ministry and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), and published in 2005. In 2015, a second round of identification took place — and when published two years later, the number of corridors had gone up to 101.
“The number of corridors increased because of fragmentation of existing corridors. Elephants were finding new routes for their journeys. Over the last decade, seven corridors have disappeared because of fragmentation and impaired animal movement — they are no longer being used by elephants. If these could be included, there would be 108 corridors now,” Dr Sandeep Kumar Tiwari, Deputy Chief of Conservation at WTI, said.
Dr Tiwari, who is on a committee that was set up by the Ministry earlier this year to look into the issue of elephant corridors, said fragmentation could take place either due to linear infrastructure such as roads and railways, or a change of land use, including the development of plantations or agricultural patches.
Dr Prajna Panda of the Ministry’s Project Elephant said the lists of elephant corridors prepared by the central and state governments do not match. “So we are going back to the drawing board to match the Ministry and state lists, and come out with a comprehensive list of corridors,” she said.
“Earlier this year, the Ministry for the first time laid down parameters on what exactly an elephant corridor is, and how they are to be identified. This will eliminate the confusion around identification and subsequent preservation. The identification of the corridors, as well as checking land-use patterns in these corridors, will help us formulate policies and prioritise action on how the corridors need to be conserved,” Dr Panda added.
The corridor identification process will be undertaken in four elephant-rich regions: North West, North East, East-Central, and South. The Ministry will launch an awareness campaign among forest officials and other stakeholders in UP and Uttarakhand (North West region) on Friday. Similar campaigns will be held in other regions as well, before a final identification process is kicked off on October 18.
“One of the main things that we will look at is land use in these corridors, and in elephant reserves. When corridors were first identified, many already had human habitation; in others, habitation has now come up. Habitation has expanded in corridors that had hardly any earlier. Elephant areas have been encroached upon. Notifying the corridors will give them legal sanctity and help us preserve animal movement,” Dr Tiwari said.
He said fragmentation often happens because the corridors pass through private land. “A notification would ensure that land use is not changed within the private property or, if that does happen, it is not of a kind that impedes the movement of animals,’’ Dr Tiwari added.
Ministry data on human-elephant conflict released last year showed 1,025 elephant deaths and 4,642 human deaths from 2009 until September 2019. The most human deaths were in West Bengal (821; 18%).
The largest number of elephant deaths were caused by electrocution (640; 62% of total in 10 years), followed by train accidents (170; 17%), poaching (153; 15%), and poisoning (62; 6%), the data show.
According to the WTI’s 2017 report for the Ministry, 400-450 people are killed every year as a result of such conflict in India, and “around 100 elephants are killed in retaliation for the damage they cause to human life and property.’’
In terms of land use, only 12.9% of the corridors were totally under forest cover compared to 24% in 2005, the report said.