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Critical Indian Elephant Habitat Threatened Again - Abhishek Kadyan

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More than 6,000 Asian elephants and hundreds of tigers still roam wild in South India, but rampant development and rapidly growing villages in the Sigur region of the Nilgiri foothills are choking off critical access corridors utilized by elephants to travel between still viable habitat areas. Following a 2006 national government declaration to protect elephant corridors (which Ecological Internet and YOU played a critical role in achieving), the Madras High Court of Tamil Nadu in 2010 issued an order to declare the Sigur Region an Elephant Corridor to regulate development and other activities affecting elephant habitat. Nevertheless, vested interests are vigorously opposing the order, causing the Government of India's Ministry of Environment and Forests to delay action.

Additional Background

The Asian elephant once ranged widely throughout tropical and subtropical Asia, but its numbers have steadily declined from an estimated 200,000 in the early 1900s to about 25,000–33,000 in the 2000s, a decline of over 80% within a century. The Indian subcontinent has the largest population of Asian elephants with population estimates ranging from 26,000 to 31,000. The major cause of the decline has been loss and fragmentation of habitat. Expanding settlements and changing land use patterns have restricted traditional elephant migration routes, and thus gene flows, threatening the long-term viability of wild elephant populations in India. Elephant habitat aligns with important ecosystems maintaining India's ecological sustainability - such as clean water, air, and soil - and thus their full protection and restoration is clearly in the long-term national interest.

Few regions in the world are more important for the Asian elephant and the tiger than the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) in southern India. Located in the middle of the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka biodiversity hotspot, this region harbors the world’s largest population of Asian elephants (more than 6,000) and about 400 tigers. Sigur’s local elephant corridors are important components of a larger vital corridor of national importance. The Sigur Region is also the only link between the remaining protected areas in two major biogeographical zones - the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats - and three states, and links thousands of elephants. Despite being part of a biosphere reserve, the Sigur Region has recently been marred by major hydroelectric and tourism development. Recently the area was threatened by a proposed Neutrino Observatory that would have brought in 100,000 construction workers, trucks and equipment. The project was shifted elsewhere due to public pressure by Ecological Internet and others.

India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) issued a directive to India’s state governments to protect elephant corridors in 2006 (letter no. 2-15/2002-PE dated 11-08-2006). In 2010 the Tamil Nadu State government issued an order to declare the Sigur Region an Elephant Corridor in order to regulate development and other activities affecting elephant habitat. Opponents to the law filed a petition in the Supreme Court falsely claiming the area was not recognized as an Elephant Corridor. The High Court of Madras, on 25th February 2010, concluded that the state government is empowered to declare such protected areas. The issue went to the Supreme Court, which referred the matter to the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), which supported the elephant corridor and endorsed the findings of the expert committee appointed by the Madras High Court. Given these years of deliberative democratic processes, and substantial public support, it is well past time for the Ministry of Environment and Forests, India to stop delaying and pave the way for the Tamilnadu State Government to protect and restore Sigur’s important elephant corridors and habitats. This alert calls upon the Ministry not to delay this process further.

Please send a letter to the national Minister of Environment and Forests, cc'ed to many other important decision-makers on the matter, urging her to ensure the Tamil Nadu state government immediately implements the law to protect the Sigur Elephant Corridor from further development, and to begin critical restoration of this and other vital elephant habitat, and particularly corridors.

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