GUWAHATI, July 1 - Growing commercial activities, including a spurt in tourism facilities, have been posing a serious threat to the animal corridors of Kaziranga National Park that link it to the Karbi Anglong hills to its south.
Conservationists believe that more than human settlements that have been existing for a long time near the animal corridors, it is the mushrooming tourism facilities blocking the corridors and the industrial activities like quarrying and mining in and around the Karbi Anglong hills that pose a far greater danger to wildlife and long-term conservation.
They have also called for a long-term corridor management plan with the inhabitants living near corridors as active stakeholders in conservation.
The park�s southern boundary has witnessed a spurt in tourist facilities, including hotels and resorts. One can see resorts with high concrete walls around their campuses standing right on animal corridors.
The State government about a decade back formed a Kaziranga Biodiversity Conservation and Management Authority to check the mushrooming growth of tourist facilities blocking corridors. But the developments since have shown it to be an eyewash, as it remained totally ineffective in checking the disturbing trend.
Conservationists point out that tourist facilities with concrete boundary walls put permanent barriers on animal paths, which is not the case with the existing villages or the tea gardens.
�We have seen wildlife moving along unnoticed very close to the sparsely-populated tribal villages located near animal corridors in the night. This is because they do not act as a permanent blockade to animal movement. The fact that these people are sensitive to the rights of the wildlife and have been co-existing peacefully with the animals also helps,� Dr PJ Borah of WWF-India which has been working with local communities for restoration of animal corridors said.
Conservationists feel that involving the local communities in preserving and protecting the animal corridors was a feasible solution because relocating such a large number of people elsewhere was not a practical proposition.
�We have been working with the local Karbi villagers for restoring a couple of highly degraded stretches of animal corridors and the results are showing. However, maintaining the equilibrium of human population is also essential because any further expansion of settlements will aggravate the situation,� he said, adding that it was high time the forest department worked out a long-term corridor management plan taking into account the diverse issues involved.
According to Samsing Engjai, the headman of a thinly-populated Karbi village bordering an animal corridor, the villagers are used to animal movement near their habitation and have no problem with that.
�The animals have a right of way along these stretches because they have been using these corridors over a very long period of time. In fact, we are ready to cooperate with the authorities for ensuring continuous safe passage for the animals,� he said.
The corridor near the village falls under the Kanchanjuri corridor complex.
A forest official with a long experience of working in Kaziranga said that engaging the locals in conservation held the key to ensuring Kaziranga�s long-term well-being.
�These people are traditionally dependent on forests and they know the importance of forests for their own sustenance. However, the authorities can facilitate some economic benefits for them through income-generating activities,� he said, adding that a policy decision at the government level was needed to regulate the spurt in tourist centres and expansion of settlements.