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Feb 18, 2009

Safe Passage For Wild Elephants

It’s a crucial migratory path that connects elephant populations in the Western and Eastern Ghats, but the Kallar-Jaccanari corridor is now in peril with private forest lands being used for agriculture and construction activity. Developmental activities have created five bottlenecks and two disconnections in the corridor, which links elephant populations in Sathyamangalam, Coimbatore and Attapadi forest divisions, as well the Silent Valley and the Nilgiris.
“The Kallar corridor was identified as an important one in the 1980s when the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve was established, but there have been no land-use plans for ecologically sensitive areas,” says Dr Raman Sukumar, one of the world’s authorities on the Asian elephant. Conservationists and forest department officials say the only way to save the corridor is to acquire land to strengthen it. Since there are no guidelines for use of private lands adjoining corridors, unregulated construction has been on the rise and large tracts of forest have been put to agricultural use. Two national highways—Mettupalayam-Coonoor highway and Kotagiri highway—and a railway line cut through the Kallar corridor. All this activity forces elephants to change migratory paths, increasing human-wildlife conflict.
“One bottleneck was created when a residential school was constructed on scrub land,” says K Kalidasan of OSAI, an environmental NGO. Conservationists have also been protesting against Black Thunder, an amusement park on the Mettupalayam-Coonoor highway, which has not only increased traffic but also consumed tracts of migratory land, he adds. “Even government institutions like Kallar horticultural farm and Tamil Nadu forest college in Mettupalayam have eaten into the corridor,” says B Ramakrishnan, field officer, Wildlife Trust of India. He did a study of vital elephant corridors in Coimbatore and Sathyamangalam forest divisions in 2007.
“Private land adjoining the corridor has to be acquired to save it,” he says. Three months ago, the Coimbatore forest department submitted a proposal to the state government to acquire 350 acres of private land in part of Kallar-Jaccanari corridor. “We have identified 15 sites; that requires about Rs 4 crore,” says district forest officer I Anwardeen. The sites include land occupied by the horticultural farm and forest college as well as private religious and educational institutions. Other corridors in Coimbatore forest division (CFD) are facing similar threats, and 25 sites have been identified for acquisition.
“We have prepared a second proposal for land acquisition in CFD that will be forwarded to the government,” says Anwardeen. It includes sites on frequently used transit paths outside forest areas. “Over the last decade, many institutions have come up on fringe areas,” says Kalidasan. “Ironically, it includes conservation organisations like Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History.” Though saving elephant corridors is an issue the state government has recognised — it took a policy decision to acquire private land for this in 2007 — it is a laborious process. It could take a while before funds are granted for land acquisition in Kallar (coming under CFD), as a proposal to acquire land in Jaccanari village, which falls under Nilgiris north forest division, is still pending.
“The first proposal for the Jaccanari land acquisition was sent in June 2007. An exploratory committee headed by the Ooty collector was set up, the land assessed and the final proposal sent to the state government in June 2008,” says R Kannan, conservator of forests, Coimbatore. “Land acquisition requires a lot of funds and is time-consuming as a lot of people are involved. The priority now is to acquire land in Jaccanari village,” says CK Sreedharan, principal chief conservator of forests, Tamil Nadu. In the meantime, conservationists are demanding a freeze on land-use changes in the area and enforcement of Tamil Nadu Hill Areas Conservation Authority (HACA) rules on construction.
“Any construction that exceeds 300 sq m in HACAnotified areas needs approval of the HACA committee but many people violate the rules,” says Kalidasan. OSAI is currently gathering data on HACA violations in CFD. Another solution is declaring the area an ecologicallysensitive one. “If the corridor is destroyed, movement of elephants from Eastern to Western ghats could stop,” says Sandeep Tiwari of WTI. The Nilgiris-Eastern Ghat landscape has the single largest Asian elephant population in the world. “Environmental organisations could join hands to raise money for land acquisition. But it is essential to take immediate steps, like declaring it an ecologically-sensitive area so that there is no further change in the land-use,” he says.

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