Thursday, 5 May 2005

Elephant Corridors

Elephants are large, and potentially dangerous animals, that frequently come into conflict with humans in a country as densely populated as India. The problems may seem insurmountable, but as my recent visit showed, it can sometimes be relatively easy to solve the problem. The problems occur when the traditional routes used by elephants to move between forests, are severed by agriculture. The elephants raid crops, trample them, and in the worst case can kill humans. Sometimes solutions such as electric fences can be used to deter elephants, but these are expensive, and require vigilant maintenance. However, much of the land needed by the elephants can be purchased. The farmers want to move -- they don't like having their crops destroyed, and they are unhappy with the constant threat to their lives and the lives of their families. Furthermore, they often want to move closer to facilities such as schools and medical services. Very often the purchase of as little as 10 or 20 acres (5 or 10 hectares) of farmland is all that is needed to create a corridor so that the elephants can move safely. Land is not cheap in India, but the purchase and resettlement, is an effective and permanent solution to the problem. We have worked out that an average of £10,000 will be sufficient to purchase a typical elephant corridor -- this figure includes all the overheads such as legal fees, surveys. Once acquired, the local forest departments will be able to protect and patrol the land along with the government owned reserves, which the corridors link.

Compared with practically any other elephant conservation project, this has to be excellent value for money -- providing a lasting solution to a serious conservation issue, that is affecting one of the most endangered species in Asia. And of course elephants are not the only species that will benefit: monkey gaur, bats and dozens of other species will use the corridors.

Working with the Wildlife Trust of India, I was able to met many of the Forest Department officials while visiting reserves in southern India. They were all unanimously enthusiastic about the proposals, recognising that NGOs such as the WTI and the World Land Trust, working together might be able to achieve action within a short timescale, before land prices escalate -- as surely they will. Will Rogers is famously claimed to have once said: "put your money in land, because they aren't making any more of it" [Apparently he didn't actually say this, but something rather similar -- just in case my more pedantic readers start emailing]. And this is one of the driving forces behind the WLT's thinking. If we don't save wilderness and other wildlife habitats now, we may not get a second chance.

Next week we are holding urgent meetings with our partners to discuss how we can accelerate our programme to acquire Elephant corridors, so if you, the reader, want to help, now is the time to donate.

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