There is a need for a “rethink” in conservation strategies for threatened large mammal species like elephants, wildlife scientists said on Monday.
In a study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, Dr Goswami said elephant survival in heterogeneous landscapes rests on their ability to move among habitats in search of food and space, stressing on the need for more connectivity of corridors between landscapes.
The study called, ‘Triage of conservation needs: the juxtaposition of conflict mitigation and connectivity considerations in heterogeneous, human-dominated landscapes’, has been authored by Dr Varun R. Goswami and Dr Divya Vasudev. It highlights the need to balance multiple conservation needs and connectivity between large landscapes.
In movement animals often come them in contact with the residents of the area, which results in potential cases of conflict with man, which is particularly relevant in densely populated countries like India.
A typical response to conflict is to prevent elephants from coming out of forests through fences and trenches. “But this strategy has a direct negative impact on connectivity, and as a result, on elephant persistence”, says connectivity expert Dr Vasudev.
Certain experts however say that demarcated corridors do not need to be fenced. But according to Dr. Vasudev, animals do not always move through corridors that people demarcate, rather they use routes they view as least threatening. While the corridors are important, but it requires further study to have an idea on how animals move, what stops dispersal, and which areas are most critical for maintaining connectivity.
This debate is particularly relevant in view of the railway fences coming up around some of country’s important forests. The cost of these fences reportedly runs to more than `1 crore per km. “Such fences coming at huge monetary and manpower costs, and before putting them up, we need to think hard about where we need to actually place them” said Dr Goswami It is critical to minimize human-elephant conflict, but while simultaneously thinking about elephant movement needs between habitats.”
Endangered species as elephants, tigers, gibbons, are largely present in fragmented landscapes. Conserving them in such landscapes thus calls for scientific policies, long-term vision, and incorporating diverse challenges and opportunities, says Dr Vasudev.