Disturbing images of elephants crossing railroad tracks or highways, being chased away with fire or killed in electric fences reach us time and again from India. Tragically, Asian elephants are on the brink of extinction with only around 40 000 left in the wild – and India with 27 000 wild elephants is home to the largest part of the remaining population. But the Gentle Giants are under severe pressure in India, mainly because of the rapidly growing human population.
A new corridor project in Kerala aims to buy and secure strategically important land for the elephants and restore the natural forest in that area.
This promising project in Kerala was initiated by Sangita Iyer. The biologist and filmmaker has shown the immense suffering of temple elephants in her documentary Gods In Shackles and drawn worldwide attention to the plight of elephants in India. With her organization Voice For Asian Elephants Society (VFAES) she organized the Gentle Giant Summit in Kerala, which is designed to improve conditions for captive as well as wild elephants.
The Munich-based elephant non profit organization Future for Elephants e.V. is partnering with VFAES and supports Sangita's work on site.
The land which is to be bought and renatured for the elephants is located in northern Kerala on the border between Nilambur and Tamil Nadu. The valley is considered a global hotspot for biodiversity and is also a traditional elephant migration route. The corridor, which connects several forest areas, is currently only 500 meters wide and is surrounded by rubber and banana plantations. On their migrations to the remaining habitats, the wild elephants are therefore exposed to great dangers.
In a first step, 2 acres will be purchased and renatured for the elephants. The latter will be achieved in cooperation with a small indigenous community living nearby, who will act as "guardians of the forest", thus gaining a new livelihood. This should happen soon, explains Sangita Iyer, since the people of the tribe are dependent on the forest and therefore keep invading the remaining habitat, with great risk of conflict. By purchasing the 2 acres, the existing corridor will be doubled!
According to the plan, a total of 58 acres of connected land are to be bought step by step and reforestated with native plant species – thereby providing wild elephants with both new habitat and secure connections between existing habitats. In addition, the local population is involved and receives a new livelihood – which will help greatly to avoid human-elephant conflict.
VFAES is cooperating with the Kerala Forest Department on this groundbreaking project and has received the support of ecologist and elephant expert Dr. med. Raman Sukumar, who created the first elephant corridor in India.