(Note: First published here.)
Report by WWF-India highlights threat by proposed railway line expansion to crucial corridor linking tiger habitats.
Kanha-Pench tiger corridor
Located in the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the Kanha-Pench corridor is one of the most important forest corridors in India and facilitates tiger dispersal between Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves. It covers an area of 16,000 sq km and acts as a refuge for several other mammals such as wild dogs, sloth bear, leopard, hyena, jackal, and sambar to name a few. The Kanha-Pench Corridor also harbours gaur and is known to facilitate their movement. The presence in the corridor of wild prey such as gaur, sambar, chital can help prevent killing of cattle by tigers and thus prevent retaliatory conflict with locals.
Importance of corridors
Sub-adult male tigers are forced to move out of areas where they are born and find new territories. These dispersing sub-adult males are often the ones that manage to use a corridor and get to the adjacent protected area.
A tiger passing through a corridor forest has to confront a range of challenges such as hostile villagers, retaliatory poisoning of livestock kills, poaching of tigers and prey, electrocution by live wires, apart from road and rail traffic. The widening of railway lines and construction and widening of roads in such a corridor will result in fragmentation of the corridor and thereby make dispersal all the more difficult for tigers and other animals that use the corridor.
Such corridors are vital for the long term survival and viability of tigers as they connect smaller tiger populations (eg. Pench and Achanakmar) to larger source populations such as Kanha. Without these linkages tiger populations isolated within individual tiger reserves face the risk of extinction due to poaching and loss in genetic vigour over generations.
Threat to the Kanha-Pench Corridor
South Central Railway has proposed the diversion of approximately 70 hectares of forest land falling within the Kanha-Pench Corridor for conversion of the current Nainpur-Balaghat narrow gauge section to broad gauge. This proposed conversion is part of the larger Gondia-Jabalpur Broad Gauge project in Central India. There is also a proposed Nainpur-Balaghat state highway that will come up almost parallel to the railway line. To ascertain the potential impacts of these expansions a site inspection was carried out by WWF-India, under the leadership of tiger biologist Joseph Vattakaven.
Key Conservation Recommendations
Based on the ground-truthing conducted, the report states that the proposed diversion of forest land from the Kanha-Pench Corridor for conversion of the existing narrow guage railway line to broad gauge will have an impact on tiger dispersal and viability in the corridor. In addition, the proposed state highway is a threat to the movement of animals because of its proximity to the railway line and will cause more animals to be killed due to the increased vehicular traffic. The expansion of the railway line and road will also impact two crucial linkages in the corridor.
To address these issues and other threats facing this crucial tiger corridor some of the key conservation recommendations proposed in the report for keeping the Kanha-Pench Corridor intact are:
- Nainpur-Balaghat narrow guage line should not be converted to broad guage.
- Frequency and movement of traffic on the existing road next to the railway line must be regulated and even diverted away without further widening.
- Resorts construction in the corridor near crucial linkages must be prevented or regulated.
- Monoculture plantations currenty being undertaken should be stopped and plantations of mixed forest trees and plants suitable for wild ungulates should be taken up instead.
- Timely and adequate compensation of cattle killed in the corridor by tigers and leopards must be made a priority by the forest department and local NGOs to prevent poisoning of tigers and human-tiger conflict.
- Alternative and sustainable livelihood options should be provided to the local stakeholders in the corridor to reduce fuel wood dependancy.
- Anti-poaching exercises, joint patrolling and monitoring of the corridor should take place at regular intervals to prevent poaching of tigers, leopards, prey and poisoning of kills.
As the author of the report and Senior Coordinator, Tiger Conservation at WWF-India, Joseph Vattakaven concludes, “The Kanha-Pench Corridor is one of the few extensive tracts of wildlife habitat covering an area of over 16,000 sq km. Such a significant corridor should be further protected rather than allowing development projects to fragment and deteriorate its utility.”