Corridor allows India's threatened elephants to roam in peace

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The Independent Online

It is not even a mile-and-a-half long and barely quarter-of-a-mile across. And yet this simple strip of land in southern India could help protect the future of up to 1,000 elephants threatened by the encroach of humans.

The corridor of land, totalling 25 acres, links two wildlife reserves in the state of Karnataka, thereby providing a vital means of passage for elephants and other wildlife travelling from one habitat to the other.

As of today, the future of the corridor will be safeguarded when the land is donated to the local government.

In a deal believed to be the first of its kind in India, the land will be handed over by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) to forest officials in a ceremony in Bangalore today. A memorandum signed by the state authorities legally requires them to maintain the corridor for the elephants.

Vivek Menon, the director of WTI and an elephant biologist, said: "This is a great step forward for elephant conservation in India, and a model I hope other conservation groups will follow.

"One of the greatest threats facing Asian elephants is the shrinking and fragmentation of their habitat.

"Protecting corridors that link these inland islands is vital to ensuring the species' survival."

There are an estimated 25,000 Asian elephants in India and, although the species is officially classified as "threatened", until recently few people considered there to be a pressing danger to the animals' survival.

But as has been the case with many animal species in India, most obviously the tiger, the increasing encroachment of humans on previously uncultivated areas has put fresh pressures on wildlife. Just last month, four wild elephants died in the north-east Indian state of Meghalaya when they became entangled in low-strung power cables as they were foraging for food.

In another recent case in Assam, where an elephant was poisoned, villagers wrote on the corpse of the animal, "Paddy thief, elephant Laden", an apparent reference to the al-Qa'ida leader.

The Edayargalli-Doddasam-pige elephant corridor links two forested areas cut off from each other by deforestation and agricultural land, and hemmed in by human settlements to the north and south. The narrow stretch of land linking the BRT Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kollegal Forest Reserve had been threatened by a new road and the cultivation of crops.

Although the local elephant population, estimated to be 1,000 strong, may be the biggest beneficiary of the deal, other threatened wildlife will also gain from the preservation of the corridor.

Fred O'Regan, the president of Ifaw, said: "The corridor in Karnataka is also home to wild tigers and leopards, so by protecting the habitat of elephants we are also able to provide safe passage for other endangered species and wildlife in the area. This is a very significant achievement."