Corridors for Connectivity, Connectivity for Conservation

April 30 2019
A herd of young Asian elephants in Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India. Photo: Panjit Basumataray/IFAW

India houses 70% of the world’s Asian elephant population.

Despite being culturally revered, recognized as the National Heritage Animal, and given the strictest level of protection under the law, the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is in a lot of trouble in India today. This large herbivore needs vast areas to roam: browsing, foraging, moving from place to place in search of food and water with the changing seasons. It is also a very intelligent social animal and a keystone species and restricting its movement to an isolated patch of land would have devastating effects on the ecosystem.

India also has more than 1.2 billion people, exerting tremendous pressure on natural resources.

Linear infrastructure and development of lands has further fragmented wildlife habitat. As humans encroach on forest areas, planting nutritious crops near forest lands, building homes and roads and railways, this invites conflict with elephants. As elephants are forced to range farther and farther afield, this brings them into direct conflict with humans. Human-Elephant Conflict is a very serious issue in India today: over 400 humans are killed in encounters with elephants annually, and crops and property worth millions are damaged.

A large chunk of the country’s elephant habitat is unprotected, susceptible to encroachment or already in use by humans leading to further habitat fragmentation. As forest lands continue to be lost, some relatively narrow, linear patches of vegetation form vital natural habitat linkages between larger forest patches. These are corridors that allow elephants to move between secure habitats freely, without being disturbed by humans. In many cases, elephant corridors are also critical for other wildlife including India’s endangered national animal, the tiger (Panthera tigris).

Securing corridors is a long-term strategy to mitigate human-elephant conflict, facilitate movement of elephants, allow them to socialize and breed, and promote their long-term conservation. A corridor is not a habitat for elephants to reside in. It is only meant to facilitate movement across and between two protected areas.

In 2005, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI) with the support from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services collaborated with a team of researchers, officials and NGOs and identified, accessed and prioritized 88 elephant corridors across India, detailing them in a publication "Right of Passage: Elephant Corridors of India." Since then, the number of elephant corridors has increased to 101, underlining the urgency to secure these so that humans and elephants can co-exist.

WTI has developed four tried-and-tested models of corridor securement through which six corridors have already been secured, two more are in process, and about 40 need only awareness and protection to keep these inviolate:

1. The Public Initiative model: Urging governments to secure the land where acquisitions are not needed and to assist them in doing so through policy intervention, public campaigns and spot-interventions;
2. The Government Acquisition model: Assisting governments in acquiring the land through official schemes for purchase and rehabilitation;
3. The Private Purchase Model: Directly purchasing the land, rehabilitating the people, and transferring it to Forest Department for legal protection. A successfully implemented model is in place;
4. The Community Securement Model: Supporting community-based organizations (CBO) to ‘set aside’ land for securement and to work with them, governments and other stakeholders to ensure community-based protection.

With the goal of securing Right of Passage for elephants in India, IFAW-WTI has embarked upon a "Gaj Yatra," which is a traveling roadshow with events to build public support for corridors and engage state and local political and business leaders by giving them an opportunity to publicly present elephant corridors as their solution to wildlife conflict.

Community engagement is further enhanced through deploying a pan-India network of "Green Corridor Champions" who are community-based organisations or individuals working as the eyes, ears and voices for 101 corridors. Securing 101 corridors will facilitate unhindered elephant movement and reduce anthropogenic disturbances, thus providing safe passage for 70% of the world’s Asian elephants in India. 

-- Rupa Gandhi Chaudhary, Chief Marketing Officer at Wildlife Trust of India

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