Andhra Pradesh

Road ecology: the road less travelled

There is a need for authorities to promote awareness in road users about animal crossings, says expert.   | Photo Credit: By Arrangements

A pregnant woman carried in a makeshift hammock through 12 km of forest in Vizianagaram district made national headlines recently. While the 25-year-old mother could be saved, the preterm baby could not be. The State Government was slammed because a 7.6 km road from the tribal hamlet to the main road at the foot of the hill to connect 15 hamlets was not laid even though it was sanctioned.

Whose life is it anyway?

This re-illustrates the classic debate between building roads that enable access to healthcare and saving human lives, and its downside of ecological damage which is conservationists’ pet peeve, resulting in a dilemma.

Road ecologists cite research that reveals roads had an ecological effect disproportionate to their size. They divert streams, change water tables and animals ranging from the magnificent King Cobra to the thousands of amphibians that come on to the roads in the rainy season and get killed. Further, smaller populations were more vulnerable to interbreeding. Roads were therefore likely to cause local extinctions.

Road ecology expert and founder of the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society Kantimahanti Murthy said that the Eastern Ghats are a vast discontinuous chain of hill ranges along the East Coast of India and a major portion of the ghats are located in Andhra Pradesh.

Forests of the Eastern Ghats are home to some endangered and lesser-known mammal species like the Fishing Cat, Rusty Spotted Cat, Indian Pangolin, Barking Deer, Mouse Deer and the Asiatic Wild Dogs. Bigger mammals like the Asiatic Elephant, Bengal Tiger and the Indian Leopard also live in these forests. Innumerable species of reptiles, birds and amphibians also inhabit the Eastern Ghats.

According to Mr. Murthy there is an urgent need to “assess native wildlife mortality and habitat fragmentation” caused by “linear infrastructure development (both road and rail)”.

A 2010 study by him, the Indian Pangolin (manis crassicaudata) was a big victim of road accidents. He and his team documented the death of several small mammals on National Highway 5 in Kambalakonda Wildlife Sanctuary near Visakhapatnam. More number of Pangolin were killed during the monsoon.

“Such incidents, no matter how unobtrusive they may appear, had a profound effect on the population of a species that were already grappling with existence,” Mr. Murthy said.

Live and let live

Besides building ecopasses, there was a need for authorities to promote awareness in road users about animal crossings. They should be sensitised and sign boards put up at stretches where the animals cross. The killing of thousands of small animals like frogs and lizards disturbed the food chain, ultimately affecting larger animals, Mr. Murthy said.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2021 9:02:08 AM |

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