Locals help to restore KNP’s animal corridors

GUWAHATI, Oct 22 – In a novel initiative, the local tribal community has joined hands with WWF-India and the Forest Department for restoration of degraded animal corridors linking Kaziranga National Park with the Karbi Anglong hills.

The restoration drive seeks to secure lost habitat comprising degraded forests through afforestaion, and the Panbari-Dolamora corridor critical to elephant movement from Kaziranga has been taken up under the project.

The first phase of the drive saw a community plantation at Longdili-Bijuli, a degraded hill of five hectares owned by the local Karbi community. The plantation sites are located at the south-eastern end of the Panbari-Dolamara corridor on the Karbi Anglong foothills covering jhum (slash-and-burn agriculture) fallow land requiring restoration.

“It is encouraging that the people are lending a helping hand to conservation. It is through a participatory model that long-term success of conservation can be ensured,” Hemari Teron, executive member (Forest), Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council (KAAC), said.

Sounding upbeat over the development, PJ Bora of WWF-India who is engaged with its Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Conservation Programme, said that several animal corridors in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape needed urgent restoration, and community participation could hold the key to brining in the desired changes.

“We have been interacting with the local people and they are ready to be stakeholders in conservation through participation. This will benefit both people and wildlife. The importance of the Panbari-Dolamora corridor can hardly be overemphasized as it is intrinsically linked to elephant movement,” Bora said, adding that restoration of corridors would minimize the man-elephant conflict in the area.

Most of the animal corridors in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape have been facing tremendous anthropogenic pressures leading to habitat degradation and disrupting the much-needed connectivity between the national park and the Karbi Anglong hills. A direct visible consequence of the development has been the escalating man-elephant conflict in the areas bordering Kaziranga.

“Kaziranga’s southern boundary borders the foothills of Karbi Anglong, with a number of wildlife corridors connecting it with the national park. The animals of Kaziranga frequently use these corridors for crossing over to Karbi Anglong in search of food and shelter or for establishing a new home range apart from escaping from the annual floods that inundate Kaziranga,” Bora said.

Joysing Bey, DFO, Karbi Anglong East Division, underscored the need to make the community active participants in conservation, and said that the Forest Department together with NGOs like WWF-India had been trying to generate awareness on protection of wildlife and their habitat among the villagers.

“The community plantation drive at Longdili-Bijuli is an outcome of our joint efforts. The local people are coming forward as it is a win-win situation for both wildlife and the community. The people stand to gain from the plantation as it is on community-owned land,” Bey said.

The National Forest Policy recommends 60 per cent forest cover in the hilly areas for retaining and maintaining ecological integrity. As per Forest Department’s data, Karbi Anglong requires another 14 per cent forest cover to meet the criterion.

Bora said that ensuring alternative livelihood options for the local community which had traditionally been dependent on forest resources should form part of a holistic strategy to preserve forests.

“Along with restoring wildlife habitat and corridors, promoting possibilities of eco-tourism and community-based tourism, and securing alternative livelihoods through community conservation, assume significance under the circumstances,” he said.