CHENNAI: How healthy are elephant corridors in TN? Are there any major bottlenecks hampering these dynamic traditional migratory routes? What is the status of human-elephant conflict in and around these corridors? These are some of the questions sought to be answered through the ground-truthing exercise being carried out across Tamil Nadu under the aegis of the Union environment ministry and the State forest department.
TN has 17 designated elephant corridors as per the last edition of “Right of Passage” published in 2017 by the environment ministry. Many more new corridors may emerge in the latest survey as some old corridors have been fragmented due to land-use change and elephant herds tend to find new routes in their home range.
V Naganathan, Additional Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), told TNIE, “Ground-truthing was being carried out to find out the priority corridors which needed urgent attention ahead of migratory season. More details will emerge during second round of discussions after the survey.”
Dr Prajna P Panda, National Coordinator, Elephant Cell of Project Elephant Division, Boominathan of World Wildlife Fund (India), and N Lakshminarayanan of Wildlife Institute of India are visiting different corridors. “We have completed identification and ground-truthing exercise in Coimbatore, Pollachi and Satyamangalam forest divisions. The corridors in Srivilliputhur, Megamalai and Hosur areas will be covered in the next few days. Most of the corridors in Tamil Nadu are well protected but there is always scope for improvement. We have to focus on corridors that are outside the protected areas, involving private lands. This is a tough and important exercise,” Lakshminarayanan told TNIE.
While the State forest department has taken some critical decisions over the last few years such as retrieval of 8,373.57 acres of forest from private entities at Singampatti village in Ambasamudram taluk of Tirunelveli through cancellation of lease and closure of 27 resorts in Nilgiris elephant corridors following a Supreme Court order, it has officially notified only four of 17 elephant corridors in Tamil Nadu.
M Ananda Kumar of Nature Conservation Foundation told TNIE, “To ensure protection of corridors, stop human-animal conflict, and prevent fragmentation of habitat, TN government must first demarcate and notify these corridors.”
The Wildlife Trust of India has also advised the State government to notify these land parcels used regularly by elephants as State Elephant Corridors to legally protect them under Wildlife protection acts.
Experts say among all the elephant corridors in the State, Bilikkal-Javalagiri corridor, Mudumalai-Nilambur via O' Valley, Vazhachal-Anaimalai via Sholayar and Vazhachal-Anaimalai via Ryan corridors are the most complex ones as they have large human settlements and plantations.
For instance, the Vazhachal-Anaimalai via Sholayar corridor connects the Valparai and Manambolly Ranges of Anaimalai Tiger Reserve (ATR) in Tamil Nadu with Malayattur Forest Division of Kerala. A large number of villages and labour lines of tea and coffee estates hinder elephant movement. This corridor has numerous estate roads, Karumalai-Balaji Temple, and Valparai-Sholayar Dam, which lead to heavy traffic movement through the corridor.
MG Ganesan, deputy director of ATR, said mitigating human-elephant conflict along the corridors passing through Valparai plateau is always a challenge. "During ground-truthing, we found private entities installing solar fences on corridor routes which may obstruct elephant movement. We have managed to ensure zero human deaths in the past one year. We will hold talks with stakeholders to ensure there is less hindrance to elephant movement during migratory season," he said.
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