The assault on India's protected areas and endangered wildlife

ALERT member Priya Davidar, a leading Indian ecologist, tells us about growing threats to India's protected areas and the imperiled wildlife they harbor:

Shrinking refuges for Asian Elephants.

Shrinking refuges for Asian Elephants.

Terrestrial protected areas constitute less than 4.9 percent of the geographical area of India and harbor many endangered species.  These reserves suffer severe fragmentation and a variety of diffuse human-related disturbances.

For example, the survival of the Asian elephant and the Bengal tiger in India hangs by a thread because they are increasingly confined to small isolated protected areas. 

Given the precarious conditions of such emblematic and endangered species, environmental clearances in protected areas -- such as permissions to disrupt parks for new mining or infrastructure projects -- are a serious affair. 

Such environmental clearances have to be approved by a statutory body, the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife.

Unfortunately, in the name of 'development', pressures on the last remaining wild refuges are growing. 

India's One-horned Rhinoceros is just clinging to survival.

India's One-horned Rhinoceros is just clinging to survival.

India's conservative national government has reconstituted the National Board for Wildlife -- by conveniently choosing experts who are rapidly approving projects in crucial wildlife habitats, including five tiger reserves.

Among the controversial clearances is the proposed expansion of National Highway 7 through one of the vital corridors between Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves.

By degrading the corridor, this highway will reduce dispersal of the tiger and consequently its long-term viability in one of the finest tiger habitats in the world.

Bengal Tiger in the wild

Bengal Tiger in the wild

Another contentious decision was the approval of the 52 kilometer-long Sevoke-Rongpo railway line in North Bengal.  This railway has killed over 40 elephants between 2004 and 2012. 

The new National Board for Wildlife also cleared a proposal to construct a road through Kutch Desert Wildlife Sanctuary in Gujarat, which will doom India's only nesting ground for flamingoes. 

Notably, the previous Board had unanimously rejected the proposal, after a site inspection conducted by an expert committee.

Another astonishing clearance was given for a major dam in Zemithang Valley, in the biologically crucial region of Arunachal Pradesh.  This is one of two essential wintering grounds for the black-necked crane, a highly vulnerable species.

Black-necked cranes

Black-necked cranes

Everywhere one looks, protected areas seem to be under assault. 

India's current government seems determined to advance 'development' at all costs.  But will diminishing the nation's critical wildlife areas -- which have already suffered greatly -- bring the kind of development that India really needs?


ALERT's efforts to protect rhino reserve gaining traction

ALERT is helping to lead international efforts to protect Chitwan National Park in Nepal from large-scale railroad and roading projects (see 'Heart of the Jungle' blog below).  Chitwan is a global wonder--a World Heritage site that harbors over 700 wildlife species, including a fifth of the world's one-horned rhinoceros.

Chitwan--where the rhinos roam (photo by Grzegorz Mikusinski)

Chitwan--where the rhinos roam (photo by Grzegorz Mikusinski)

We are happy to report our efforts are beginning to gain some momentum:

-ALERT's recent press release on Chitwan was circulated to hundreds of media outlets globally, a number of which published the release or wrote brief stories about it.

- The Ecologist has just published an excellent article on this issue, using information we helped to provide.

- Members of the European Commission we briefed are showing strong interest in the issue, and are considering contacting the Nepalese delegation about it. 

- An online petition to protect Chitwan has just been started at Avaaz.  Please sign the petition and ask your friends and colleagues to do likewise!

This is still very early days and your help is needed.  Please circulate the Avaaz petition and the link for The Ecologist story widely.

ALERT helps lead efforts to protect 'Heart of the Jungle'

In just a two-month period last year, poachers in northern India slaughtered 13 one-horned rhinos--one of the world's most critically endangered species.  It's for this reason that ALERT is helping to lead efforts to protect the most important refuge for one-horned rhinos anywhere--Chitwan National Park in Nepal (see our press release on this issue).

Chitwan: A haven for rhinos--for now.

Chitwan: A haven for rhinos--for now.

In Nepalese, 'Chitwan' means 'Heart of the Jungle', and its name reflects the astonish variety and abundance of wildlife there--over 700 species, including many of the Indian subcontinent's most spectacular animals. 

As a refuge for impressive wildlife, Chitwan really is the Serengeti of Nepal, despite being far smaller than Tanzania's iconic park.  Among its denizens are a fifth of the world's one-horned rhinos.  These animals are highly vulnerable to poachers, who slaughter the animals for their single horn--prized for traditional medicines and as a putative aphrodisiac in parts of Asia.

Unfortunately, the Nepalese and Indian governments are planning to push a major leg of the East-West Railway right through Chitwan, as well as eight feeder roads.  This is despite there being viable alternative routes for the railroad along the park's margins.  It is likely that these projects will increase access to the park for poachers, and might fragment and disrupt the park ecosystem.

Beyond its stunning natural values, Chitwan is important for people too.  It attracts upward of 100,000 tourists each year and helps to sustain around 400 hotels and nature lodges--an important foundation of the regional economy.

ALERT members urge the Nepalese government to take all steps to protect the 'Heart of the Jungle'.