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Development projects not wildlife-friendly in Uttaranchal: expert

Written by: Staff

New Delhi, Apr 20: Development projects in Uttaranchal are not wildlife friendly and are especially causing harm to elephant population of the state, environmentalists claim.

According to official figures, 90 elephants have been killed in the last five years alone, which was nearly 20 per cent of the state's pachyderm population, Mr J P Dabral of the Himalayan Chipko Foundation said here, raising concern about an elephantine problem.

While seven tuskers were killed, probably by poachers, in the famous Jim Corbett National Park, 20 cows and young elephants had been killed after being hit by trains in Rajaji National Park, he said.

One tusker was killed last month in Barkot range forest in Dehra dun district due to man-animal conflict, he added.

After the formation of Uttaranchal state in November 2000 there had been a spurt in development activities in the state, dams, roads, bridges, transmission lines, canals were being constructed, Mr Dabral said.

There was a proposal to build a four-lane highway from Dehradun to Tanakpur through Rajaji National Park, Chilla National Park and Jim Corbett National Park, posing danger to the wildlife and ecology of the area, he added.

Though development activities could not be stopped. However, such projects must have adequate planning to make them wildlife and eco-friendly, the wildlife activist said.

He pointed out that the National Highway Authority of India, which made guidelines for the construction of highways in the country, did not have any comprehensive guidelines for making roads in wildlife, forested or mountainous areas.

The 'deadly' railway track near Motichur in Uttaranchal where 20 elephants had been killed in accidents should be made 'elevated' to allow easy passage for the animals, he suggested. Similarly, the water canal going from Rishikesh to Uttar Pradesh along the Chilla National Park could be covered in some stretches to enable elephants to cross, he said.

Traditionally, wild elephant herds used to migrate across the Yamuna river to Tanakpur and beyond into Nepal. On an average a herd traveled about five to 20 km per day. They would come to the same area after more than two years. At that time there were not many roads, railway tracks, canals or electricity lines to hinder their movement, he added.

Their movement was also a deterrent to the poachers and hunters.

But today the scenario was different. Elephants of Rajaji National Park could not cross the Ganga canal because of its cemented embankments trap the elephants and they drowned, he said.

Such man-made obstacles had localised the movement of elephants.

And the poachers now had it easy with the big animals restricted to a small area, he added.

An example of this was the Gwalgarh area near Kotdwar in Uttaranchal. In the last three years one tusker has been killed here every year, Mr Dabral said.

Neither the police nor the forest officials had any any clue about what was happening, he alleged.

Tree felling by the forest mafia had also added to the vulnerability of the elephants. In Barkot forest range near Dehra dun where an elephant was killed last month, it was a common sight to see forest timber being smuggled openly by tractor trolleys without registration numbers, he claimed.

The connivance of the forest officials was obvious. With lesser foliage cover elephants now venture into the agricultural fields on the periphery of their habitat making them sitting ducks for the poachers, Mr Dabral said.

While mixed forests were being cut, the afforestation done by the forest department in this area mainly comprised of 'Sagwan' which had no fodder value for the elephants, he added.


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