Safe passage for endangered elephants: India corridor given to government

Thursday, December 20, 2007
Bangalore, India
More than one thousand wild elephants have been given a right of passage today, with the safeguarding of a wildlife corridor that links two reserves in Karnataka, Southern India. The land was handed over by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www.ifaw.org) and international partner, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), to forest officials in a ceremony in Bangalore – the first time land has been bought by a non-profit wildlife organization and signed over to the government to protect the habitat of the endangered Asian elephant.
Michael Wamithi, IFAW’s global Elephants Program Manager, said: “This is a significant step forward for elephant conservation in India, and a model I hope other wildlife groups will follow. Trans-frontier wildlife linkages are a sustainable means of addressing both habitat fragmentation and human-elephant conflict. Similar initiatives must continue to be implemented throughout both Asia and Africa to ensure the species’ survival.”
 
A formal MOU signed between the Karnataka government and WTI transfers the land, known as the Edayargalli-Doddasampige (E-D) corridor, to the Forest Department. In return for the title deeds, forest officials will maintain the corridor as a safe passage for elephants. The agreement brings the corridor officially into an existing protected area, improving the ability of forest guards to secure this strip of land. The 25.5 acres of land was privately purchased by IFAW in 2005 to ensure a viable habitat was protected from future development. WTI field staff will monitor the usage of the corridor by wildlife and ensure the movement of elephants is not hindered.
 
The E-D corridor is a narrow strip of land (0.5 km wide and 2 km long) that is crucial to the local elephant population as it links two forested areas cut off from each other by deforestation and agricultural land. A highway also runs through the corridor connecting human settlements to the north and south, which threatens the ability of elephants to move safely between the protected areas for foraging and breeding.
 
Fred O’Regan, President of IFAW, said: “I am proud of this ground-breaking initiative, which aims to give privately-owned land back to the government authorities who are best-placed to enforce existing conservation laws. The E-D 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.”
 
Elephant corridors are narrow strips of land that allow elephants to move from one habitat patch to another. There are 88 identified elephant corridors in India. The country is home to an estimated 25,000 wild elephants.
 
WTI, IFAW and partners have also acquired part of an identified elephant corridor linking the Wayanad Sanctuary to the Brahmagiri Sanctuary, Kerala. The strip of land is threatened by human settlements. By acquiring the land owned by villagers, either by direct payment or by providing suitable alternative land and houses along with rehabilitation packages, the project works with local communities to ensure elephant habitat is protected for long-term conservation. Four families have already been voluntarily relocated from Thirulakunnu village. Mr O’Regan commented: “Importantly, local villagers also benefit from the creation of corridors because they help reduce instances of conflict, thus creating a better world for animals and people.”
 
Elephant numbers, which once were in the millions, have plummeted to an estimated 500,000. Today, there are approximately 35,000 to 45,000 Asian elephants remaining in the wild, about a tenth of the existing African elephant population. The major threats to elephant populations within Asia are poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation.

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