Peace & space for jumbos- Report on highway development and elephant path
Guwahati, March 7: To ensure that both development and wildlife blend harmoniously, WWF India has suggested a series of mitigative measures to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) so that wildlife in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape which bisects Lumding reserve forest is not drastically affected by the development of NH-54E. The road is being upgraded to a four-lane highway.
A report, Ensuring Safe Access to Wildlife in Lumding Reserve Forest, brought out by WWF India was released today. It says that balancing the need for rapid infrastructure development like the NH-54E — which goes via Lumding reserve forest — with the need to keep the wilderness areas from being impacted is a typical example of the type of situation where it is important to find a solution that will set a precedent.
The bisection of the entire reach of the Lumding reserve forest, an important elephant habitat, by the existing road has not severely affected the movement of elephants.
However it could do so once the road gets upgraded and traffic intensity and speed increases, the report adds.
At present, there are only two passages in a stretch of 24.6km of elephant habitat which is not at all sufficient as the elephants cross through almost the entire stretch of this road.
According to the report, more elephant passages at suitable locations are required and landscaping of the area should also be done so that it does not have any negative impact for the inhabiting wildlife in their natural movement.
It also pointed out that construction period of the passage in the area should be so selected that the elephants are away on seasonal migration. This will reduce any disturbance to the elephants because of construction activities and thus reduce chances of conflict.
The 22,403-hectare Lumding reserve forest is an important wildlife habitat in Nagaon district and stretches through Lanka and Lumding ranges of Nagaon South forest division and was notified as part of Dhansiri-Lumding elephant reserve in 2003.
A WWF field team had recorded canopy continuity over the road within the stretch from Lankajan to Lumding at 119 places indicating that hoolock gibbons and other arboreal mammals at that time could cross the road at many places without fear of being run over by speeding vehicles. Hoolock gibbons are territorial and exclusively arboreal. Any widening would immediately remove the existing 119 sites where canopy continuity was recorded.
The conservation agency has suggested making artificial lianas (woody climbers) which can be connected at regular intervals of 1 or 2km across the road from tall trees. “These lianas can be made locally and last for many years and almost all arboreal mammals have been seen to use them,” it said.
It says that the spirit of dialogue between a conservation organisation and a development agency such as the NHAI should be seen as a model for other such development projects to protect the country’s wilderness areas.