The largest and potentially most viable population of Asian elephants is found in the mountains of the Western Ghats where the three Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka meet. You may recall that Ecological Internet's Earth Action Network first worked on Asian elephants in India, with some positive outcomes, in October of 2006.
Of a total population of about 2000 elephants surviving in Peninsular India in various fragmented habitat islands, the largest single population which may number over 1000 individuals is found in a near contiguous habitat extending over this 4500sq km tract. The best forage is in the Tamil Nadu section but the elephants need to migrate to Kerala and Karnataka each summer when water and food become scarce in Tamil Nadu
Direct movement from Tamil Nadu to Karnataka is no longer possible because of clearing and development and so now the only way for the elephants to migrate from the east to the west in the dry time and return during the wet season is via the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu, to the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala. But due to habitat fragmentation this route must now pass through a corridor which is only about 2.5 km wide extending from Mulehole in Karnataka to Muthanga in Kerala.
The major inter-state highway linking Bangalore with Calicut passing through this corridor is used by hundreds of vehicles round the clock. Recently a decision was made to relocate four different Kerala government departmental check-posts to within the corridor involving all manner of infrastructure - building complexes, housing, offices, toilets and dormitories for drivers, a fuel filling station and so on. The checkpoint clearance takes hours, so there would constantly be hundreds of lorries parked along the road on either side of the checkpoints within the forests preventing elephants from using the corridor. A suitable alternative site for these check-posts exists outside the forest.
In another part of this elephant population's range, the proposed establishment of the India Based Neutrino Observatory (INO) in Singara, within the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and in the buffer zone of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve, threatens to further fragment elephant migration routes. Singara is in a critical wildlife habitat and falls within the Sigur plateau that acts as a hub between three major wildlife habitats in the NBR - Mudumalai TR/Nagerhole TR, Coimbatore Division/Silent Valley and The Eastern Ghats (Sathyamangalam/BRT Sanctuary/Bannergatta NP), and adjacent to the site is a crucial wildlife corridor linking Mudumalai with the forests towards the North and East. This large network of protected areas is home to remnant populations of large endangered mammals, which are disappearing rapidly elsewhere.
'The project will undoubtedly affect the Asian Elephant and almost every other species in the area, but the bigger problem with a project like this is the massive infrastructure development that is going to happen in this fragile area.
'Their offer to offset the damage they are going to cause by putting a small percentage of the budget into conservation is ridiculous. Its like suggesting we kill off a few tigers and elephants, sell all their body parts and use the money for conservation,' says Ajay Desai, the co-chair of IUCN's Asian Elephant Specialist Group.
The Wayanad Nature Protection Group (Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshana Samati) has appealed to the world community to help prevent the severance of these critical corridors.
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Asian Elephants require connected large habitats
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