India’s top bureaucrats managing forests and elephants, and the wildlife conservation NGO community on Wednesday showcased public-private partnership (PPP) initiatives that promise to connect more of the 88 identified elephant corridors with forests, potentially reducing the stress on the species.

On its part, the Centre is considering hiking compensation for voluntary resettlement of residents to increase habitat available to elephants and reduce human-elephant conflict.

At a side event on ‘Securing Wildlife Corridors,’ held at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity here, director of Project Elephant A.M. Singh said raising the financial compensation to help people voluntarily move out of elephant habitat, particularly in the northeast, was at the top of the list of official priorities and a committee to be constituted soon would go into the question.

However, director-general of Forests P.J. Dilip Kumar acknowledged, in response to a question from a Greenpeace representative, that he could not say anything definite about the conservation possibilities and challenges in areas facing mining issues in central India.

The PPP success stories for elephant corridors come from the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), which has partnered governments in four areas. Under the model, privately held corridor lands are acquired and handed back to the state. This has worked in Edayarhalli- Doddasampige (Kollegal), Chilla-Motichur (Uttarakhand), Siju-Rewak (Meghalaya), and Tirunelli-Kudrakotte (Wayanad). The WTI is working on nine elephant corridors at present. In the Garo hills of Meghalaya, it has secured 1,500 hectares. In some other locations, the parcels are much smaller, at about 25 hectares each. No immediate figure on the funds involved was available.

Funds released

The Centre released Rs. 20-crore for 2011-12 to States to implement Project Elephant, and Rs. 160-crore during the same year for Project Tiger. Funds given to individuals for relocation from specified tiger habitat are much higher than for elephants.

A positive outcome of the connectivity efforts is a higher recorded presence of elephants in the Wayanad corridor, elimination of train-hit mortality of elephants in Uttarakhand since 2003, and tremendous community participation in Meghalaya, said Vivek Menon, CEO of WTI.

Commenting on the macro picture, Mr. Singh said a confident estimate of the elephant population today would be 30,000 individuals and the 2012 census would provide firm data. Legal tools available to States to declare areas favoured by elephants include the Wildlife Protection Act and the Environment (Protection) Act. Community reserves, reserve forests, protected forests and ecologically sensitive areas covering even revenue and panchayat lands could be created.

Future challenges for India in securing elephant corridors involve concluding an international agreement with Bhutan. Bilateral agreements with Bangladesh and Nepal also include the question of elephant corridors, Mr. Singh said.

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