NHAI destroying wildlife corridors by ignoring NTCA’s “Smart Green Infrastructure” Mandate

Among all the projects going through forests, highways seem to be the single biggest threat to tiger corridors in the Central Indian landscape, home to some 688 tigers or one-fifth of population in the wild.

The National Highways Authority India (NHAI), by ignoring mitigation measures for wildlife has consistently failed to adhere to the principles of ‘Smart Green Infrastructure’ advocated by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) and the World Bank (WB). In Vidarbha, two widened highways – NH6 & NH7 – alone have destroyed at least six tiger corridors. It includes Nagzira-Navegaon, Kanha-Indravati, Bor-Melghat on NH6 and Tadoba-Kawal, Tadoba-Bor, and Tadoba-Tipeshwar on NH7.

A latest study has shown these wildlife corridors have the highest movement of tigers in central Indian landscape. Currently, very limited data exists on tiger movement outside protected areasĀ to validate model results. These are the very corridors that both NH7 and NH6 cut and will further damage as these highways are four-laned. The latest study says the linkages suggest that these protected areasĀ and linkages play a critical role in maintaining tiger connectivity in central India. Our analyses suggest there are several opportunities to maintain wildlife connectivity in this landscape,” said Dutta, a postdoctoral scientist at Columbia University.

The study ‘Connecting the dots: Mapping habitat connectivity for tigers’ was released in September by wildlife conservationists scientists Trishna Dutta, Sandeep Sharma, Brad H McRae, Parth Sarathi Roy and Ruth DeFries. It underlines the need for strong mitigation measure

The researchers assessed connectivity between 16 protected areas (PAs) in Central India, a global priority landscape for tiger conservation, using data on land use and land cover, human population density, and transportation infrastructure. “We identified and prioritized movement routes. And mapped 35 linkages in the region and calculated metrics to estimate their quality and importance. Our analyses suggest there are several opportunities to maintain wildlife connectivity in this landscape,” said Dutta, a postdoctoral scientist at Columbia University.

The study found that highest current flow of tigers was between Kanha-Pench, Pench-Satpura, Kanha-Navegaon, Kanha-Nagzira, Nagzira-Navegaon, and Nagzira-Pench. These have been cut off due to four-laning of NH7 and NH6. Earlier, a paper on genetics by Aditya Joshi in 2013 had said that roads and human settlements were having a negative impact on tiger connectivity in central Indian landscape.

The latest study says the linkages suggest that these PAs and linkages play a critical role in maintaining tiger connectivity in central India. In addition, smaller areas such as Bor, Navegaon, and Phen have high centrality scores relative to their areas and thus may act as important stepping stones. Currently, very limited data exists on tiger movement outside PAs to validate model results. Regional-scale connectivity mapping efforts can assist managers and policymakers to develop strategic plans for balancing wildlife conservation and other land uses in the landscape, the researchers said.

The study says this region is a conservation priority landscape for tigers but is facing tremendous pressure from development and infrastructure sectors. “Development is necessary, but it can be planned and executed in a much better way so we do not devastate our last remaining wild habitats and species,” said Dutta.

The central Indian landscape is the only one without a single tiger population viable on its own in the long run without immigration or emigration of adult tigers. Wildlife biologists Milind Pariwakam & Aditya Joshi say, “meaningful mitigation measures need to be incorporated while widening roads. Mitigation measures such as ecoducts as recommended by environment minister Prakash Javadekar can easily be implemented here saving these corridors.”

They pointed out that the study showed connectivity to Tadoba lower than expected as it was on the edge of the study map whereas there were important corridors on the south of Tadoba. To this, Dutta says every method has drawbacks. “I have attempted genetic tools to study corridor use and they provide excellent information.”

 

Earlier, a paper on genetics by Aditya Joshi in 2013 had said that roads and human settlements were having a negative impact on tiger connectivity in central Indian landscape. The latest study says the linkages suggest that these PAs and linkages play a critical role in maintaining tiger connectivity in central India. In addition, smaller areas such as Bor, Navegaon, and Phen have high centrality scores relative to their areas and thus may act as important stepping stones. Currently, very limited data exists on tiger movement outside PAs to validate model results. Regional-scale connectivity mapping efforts can assist managers and policymakers to develop strategic plans for balancing wildlife conservation and other land uses in the landscape, the researchers said. The study says this region is a conservation priority landscape for tigers but is facing tremendous pressure from development and infrastructure sectors. “Development is necessary, but it can be planned and executed in a much better way so we do not devastate our last remaining wild habitats and species,” said Dutta. The central Indian landscape is the only one without a single tiger population viable on its own in the long run without immigration or emigration of adult tigers.

 
Ashutosh Pande
Ashutosh Pande is a keen wildlife and nature enthusiast and a regular contributor at Tiger Bulletin.
Ashutosh Pande

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Tiger’s Revenge – National Geographic – Documentary – 00:43:58
Swamp Tigers – Rare footage of the royal Bengal Tiger – Sky Vision Documentary – 00:50:07
Land of the Tiger – BBC – Documentary – 00:45:47
Majestic Wild Tigers – Big Cats Fighting for Survival