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Right of Passage
Published by Vivek Menon, Sandeep Kumar Tiwari, P. S. Easa, R. Sukumar, 12 Jan 2005
This publication, brings together for the first time, a comprehensive listing of India's elephant corridors as listed and mapped by elephant experts, and certified by all state forest departments that are part of elephant range in the country. Securing these corridors so that elephants and other species can locally migrate between habitats is crucial to their survival.
Click here to view the PDF (18.7 mb)

The Asian elephant once possessed a vast kingdom that ranged across southern Asia, from the Tigris–Euphrates basin in the west across the Indian subcontinent into Indo-China, various islands in the southeast, and northward up to the Yangtze river and even beyond. If you look at a map depicting the distribution of the elephant today, you will see a shattered kingdom, a vastly reduced range broken into fragments, a few drops of colour splashed accidentally on a worn out southern Asian fabric. This is  the tragedy facing the Asian elephant today–existence in isolation. Over a hundred such fragments are scattered across its range, with over 40 isolated populations on the island of Sumatra alone. India, too, comes
close in the number of distinct elephant populations across the four regions they are found, with little chance of intermingling as nature would have  otherwise permitted.

The long-term survival of a large-bodied, long-ranging animal such as the elephant can be ensured only through maintaining viable populations within viable habitats. For maintaining viable habitats it is vital that we maintain large, unfragmented landscapes. How large these landscapes should be is open to discussion, but it is clear from studies of the elephant’s home range, population dynamics and elephanthuman conflicts that this should be of the order of several hundred square kilometers at a minimum in the short term, and certainly several thousand square kilometers to ensure long-term viability.

India does, fortunately, have a few areas where the above conditions are still met. The problem is that even here the options of keeping these landscapes without disintegrating further are fast disappearing. As the country moves into the high gear of economic growth, the symbols of development–roads, railway lines, dams and canals, pipelines, mines,  expansion of settlement and cultivation–threaten to permanently rip apart the tattered habitat fabric. In many places, the linkages literally hang by a thread.

It is imperative that we begin the process of consolidating landscapes for elephants and other wildlife through protecting and strengthening existing corridors, or creating corridors where this is feasible and the situation not too late. This is not an easy process. Each corridor represents a different situation in terms of and ownership, importance, feasibility and costs. It may take years to set up a particular corridor. To give some examples, two (among several) elephant corridors I had identified during the mid-1980s have finally been created in Karnataka through the participation of the government. (Karnataka Forest Department and Project Elephant of the Govt. of
India in one instance, and NGOs [Wildlife Trust of India and Asian Nature Conservation Foundation] in another) during 2001–03! This report, jointly published by Wildlife Trust of India and the Asian Elephant Research and Conservation Centre (a division of the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation), is a compilation of identified “corridors” across the elephant’s range in the country. Given the fragmented nature of the elephant’s habitat this task is by no means an easy one. Although we do have reasonably detailed surveys of elephant distribution in some regions of the country, such as parts of the south and the north, we still do not have sufficient information about habitat status to identify and evaluate the viability of many corridor-like situations in the east-central and northeastern regions.
 
We sincerely hope that this report will provide the much needed initial data on elephant corridors for actual planning for their creation to begin. Each potential corridor will have to be “ground truthed” for determining its importance, feasibility of creation and cost involved. This document should be useful to various agencies, including the central and state governments (Ministry of Environment and Forests, and the state Forest Departments), national and international conservation NGOs, researchers and donors. While this data base on elephant corridors would continue to be updated, I can only hope that this information will keep conservation agencies busy in the coming years to help preserve the habitat for a magnificent animal that has been a part of our land and culture for millennia.

Raman Sukumar
Professor of Ecology, Indian Institute of Science and
Hon. Director, Asian Elephant Research and Conservation Centre
and Trustee, Wildlife Trust of India

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