Elephants have attacked cars on the Mettupalayam-Coonoor highway twice in the last month, severely damaging the vehicles though the occupants escaped unhurt. While the forest department and conservationists are concerned about such attacks, they say they have been reiterating the need to regulate or stop traffic on this highway during night hours. The highway cuts right through a crucial elephant migratory corridor, the Kallar-Jaccanari corridor, which the animals use mostly at night. “The Kallar corridor links the elephant populations in the Nilgiris, Coimbatore and Silent Valley,” says Dr Raman Sukumar, one of the world’s leading authorities on the Asian elephant, and chairman, Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc, Bangalore.This corridor is a highly disturbed one, with both the Mettupalayam-Coonoor highway and the Mettupalayam-Kotagiri highway cutting through it.
Increased construction and development activities in the area also encroach upon the traditional migratory paths of the animals, which migrate between habitats in search of food and water. “In the last two months, vehicles have been damaged on the Mettupalayam-Coonoor highway and the Kotagiri highway. Such incidents are rare, but wild elephants are under tremendous pressure as they are unable to cross the highway,” says Mohan Raj, coordinator for Eastern Ghats landscape, World Wide Fund for Nature.
“Traffic on the highway should be stopped from midnight to 5 am, when the elephants are most likely to cross. We’re planning to put up signboards warning people of elephant movement along the highway, with the help of Wildlife Trust of India,” says K Kalidasan, president of OSAI, an environmental organisation. Traffic on the Mettupalayam-Coonoor highway has increased in the past few years. A study conducted by Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in April-May 2007 revealed that 4,540 cars and larger vehicles use the highway cutting through the corridor every day, with over 2,000 of them travelling during evening and night. The forest department conducted its own study from November 15-30, 2008 at the Kallar checkpost.
“Between 365 and 450 vehicles ply on the highway between midnight and 6 am,” says I Anwardeen, district forest officer. “To ensure safety of travellers, traffic should be stopped after midnight till at least 5.30 am, making an exception for emergencies.” He adds that people should also be sensitised about driving in this area at night. “People should be responsible enough to plan their trip so that they avoid using this highway at night,” he says. However, no action has been taken so far.
“We do not know if we can completely stop traffic on the highway at night, but we shall discuss it at our next meeting,” says district collector V Palanikumar, who is also the chairman of the traffic advisory committee. To ensure better passage for elephants and avoid human-animal conflict, conservationists have been urging for the construction of a flyover for vehicles. “Since there is 24-hour traffic along the highway, it is essential to construct a flyover from the beginning of the first hairpin bend to the end of the second hairpin bend,” says B Ramakrishnan, field officer, Wildlife Trust of India.