Elephants Reclaim their Land in Kerala, India
India is home to 60% of the remaining Asian elephant populations, making their survival in India critical to the survival of the whole species. It is for this very reason that the World Land Trust is partnering the Wildlife Trust of India, who have identified vital corridors as a fast-action bid to protect the Elephants that are left.
The WLT and WTI are now working hard to safe-guard traditional migratory routes for Elephants so that they can move safely between National Parks and other protected areas. Elephants need large areas in which to feed and breed and habitat loss, leading to the fragmentation of their forests, is perhaps the greatest threat the Asian elephant faces. This results in small, isolated populations of elephants just managing to survive, but if they stray outside protected areas in search of food they are likely to come into conflict with humans as elephants destroy their crops and cause damage to their habitations. Persecution of elephants can be in the form of huge trenches being dug to stop them crossing, firecrackers to scare them away and, in some cases, poisoning.
Inevitably, in many of the identified corridors there are human settlements, but so far the local people who WTI are working with have been keen to move to safer locations where their crops, houses and children aren't threatened by Elephants. Working hand-in-hand with the local people the main goal of this project is to acquire and protect the land within the corridors and to work with the local people to relocate them in suitable new areas, build them new houses and help with establishing their small holdings.
A recent success story...
These images clearly show the destruction to paddy fields and coconut palms caused by elephants migrating through what once were traditional routes. This corridor covers a portion of the Wayanad district in Kerala and forms an important pathway for Elephants moving between Begur and Brahmagiri reserve forests. This was identified as a priority area and the local community, consisting of about seven houses, were keen to be relocated away from the threat of elephant conflict.
Four families have been relocated so far and this image shows the official handing over ceremony of a part of the Kerala corridor. The families have been provided with alternative land and houses with funds from the World Land Trust and can now grow their crops without fear of elephant damage. As part of the programme WTI organises workshops for local people to assist them in developing sustainable livelihoods and, in many cases, they are employed as wardens and park guards.
It was just two weeks after the four families who used to live in this section of the Tirunelli-Kudracote corridor in Kerala had been relocated before the elephants and other wildlife started moving back in. The electric fences, fire crackers and trenches were all removed and the elephants re-claimed back the land as theirs.
Local journalist, Jose Louies, was there watching the elephants as they moved back and he reported, "It looked like a battle field. Coconut palms hanging and gashes in the trunk as if someone had repeatedly stabbed them. A heap of branches mixed with mud where the coffee plantation once stood. Deep footprints and mounds of elephant dung in the paddy fields where elephant's wallowed. The massage was clear: This is our home and trespassers are not welcome!"
Ensuring the survival of 'flagship' species like the Asian elephant requires the protection of their entire habitat, which means the initiative will also benefit other wildlife that rely the forests for survival.. The corridor is not only home to elephants but is also inhabited by Tigers, Clouded Leopard, Jungle Cat and Barking Deer to name but a few.
Once the whole corridor has been purchased, it will be registered as a reserve forest which will provide it with legal protection. WTI will replant trees in areas which will not regenerate naturally and will protect and monitor the corridor to ensure its security for Elephants and the other biodiversity to live, move and breed without threat.
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