As the sun dropped behind the hills, somewhere in Himacahal Pradesh, there was not a single vehicle in sight. No network. And five men were stuck in a SUV. “We got really scared as there was no trace of any human activity as far as our eyes could reach. We were at an altitude of 2500 mts driving from Jim Corbett to Lansdowne and lost our way because we took a wrong U-turn on The Himalayas,” recalls R. Mohammed Saleem.
Luckily his wife Shaima Saleem, who tracked the vehicle through GPS from Coimbatore, connected with them at one point. “She guided us to take a right turn down the road that led us to a village. Finally, we saw people and were back on track. The Map My India GPS navigation on our vehicle turned out to be our saviour. It even helped the locals in Jammu,” he says.
Saleem and his team of V. Saanthakumar, H. Byju, P. Velmurgan, and C.V. Prasath are just back from a 44-day trip across India. Saleem is the founder of Environment Conservation Group (ECG) which also runs Provide Animals safe Transit on Highways (PATH), an online forum on Facebook.
The team covered bio-diversity hotspots across the country in 22 states. They documented road kills, placed signboards, distributed posters, and interacted with students, forest officials, and spread the word on road kills. “Road kill is a major threat to wildlife and it impacts our ecosystem. From the giant elephants to the smallest reptiles, snakes, frogs…no animal is spared on the highway. We have to raise our voice. Agencies like the Highway, Forest department and local bodies should collaborate to mitigate road kills, especially at bio-diversity hot spots,” explains Saleem.
He gives the example of canopy bridges. Those built by Nature Conservation Foundation in Valparai connect tree tops and allow for safe passage of the Lion-Tailed Macaque (LTM). This helps to bring down the road kills of LTMs significantly. Speed breakers and signboards at animal corridors also help. “As we crossed Punjab border, we saw signboards that alerted the tourists with a simple message that read ‘Nilgais are here. Drive carefully’. In West Bengal and Orissa, we interacted with students who told us how railway tracks also pose danger to animals. Elephants are often crushed to death on the tracks. It was an eye-opener for us too. We only looked at the highways,” says Saleem.
The 44-day journey flagged off by Dr. Rajeev K Srivastava, director of Tamil Nadu Forest Academy in Coimbatore, had its moments of highs and lows.
“On day one, we saw a road kill of a Bonnet Macaque on the route to The Nilgiris. We stopped the vehicle when we noticed bonnet macaques on the road making strange noises. They were looking for help to save the bleeding member of the family. It was very upsetting.”
The team stopped at tiger reserves at Mudumalai, Bandipur and Satyamangalam. “The Satyamangalam Road poses danger for elephants, spotted deer and leopards that often cross the road. There is heavy vehicle movement towards Karnataka. During our trip, we recorded a road kill of a squirrel and a couple of birds. At the Bannari check post we distributed posters to truck drivers, forest guards and tourists.”
Starting with Metro Matriculation School in Mettupalayam, Nanda College in Erode, American College in Madurai, and many more in Chennai, Pondicherry, Bhuvaneswar, and Vishakhapatnam, the Jammu University in Jammu & Kashmir, Calicut University, and IIT in Guwahati, the PATH team spoke to the students’ community. In Kerala, they met the governor P. Sathasivam.
“Birds that come out looking for grains are hit even before they realise that there is a speeding vehicle on the highway. That is how advanced our vehicles have become. In some places like Rajasathan, carnivores like jackal and desert fox that venture out to feed on the carcass of rodents and birds on the highway become casualties. Highways are tearing up mountains and making inroads into the forest too, even in places like tiger reserves. We noticed this at Jaldapara in Assam. In most places, there are no sign boards or marking to alert the tourists,” he says.
Saleem says people, especially those in the tribal belt, were courteous and gracious hosts. “They welcomed us to their homes and gave us inputs about animal movement inside the forest. Interactions with the student community was enriching and the truck drivers were receptive too.”
He says over-bridges and underpasses at animal corridors will be a big help.
“Underpasses work best. You can continue driving without slowing down and animals will carry on with their lives .”
More on PATH
The team covered 17,000 kms and visited 35 sanctuaries
To contribute information about road kills and know more, visit: https://www.facebook.com/ ECGPATH
You can also visit www.ecgwild.org
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