In News: A recent article says the endangered Asian Elephant has lost most of its “optimal” habitat: flat terrain that is easily navigable.
Conserving elephants in the southernmost western ghats
- The Western Ghats is an escarpment running north–south along the western coastline of India, interrupted towards the south by the low-lying Palghat Gap that separates the northern from the southern elephant populations.
- The northern part of the WG includes the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve [NBR] and its surrounding PAs [protected areas], which contain the largest remaining population of wild elephants, ca. 6000 animals.
- Nilgiris Elephant Corridor: The corridor is situated in the ecologically fragile Sigur plateau, which connects the Western and the Eastern Ghats and sustains elephant populations and their genetic diversity. It is situated near the Mudumalai National Park in the Nilgiris district.
Challenges for the Elephants
- Human Encroachment: Human settlements and crop cultivation have hindered the movement of the elephants, keeping them confined to the hilly areas, considered sub-optimal habitats.
- Narrow Passage Width + Interception: In these sub-optimal habitats, their chances of survival are lower due to dangerous terrain for animals of this size.
- Study shows that when barriers are erected, particularly in areas with slopes, their movement is blocked and gene flow reduced.
- This could ultimately lead to increasing the extinction risk of this endangered species.
- Presence of highways and Railway lines
What happens when the movement is restricted and gene flow reduced?
- There is more in-breeding
- Low genetic diversity
- Pushing up chances of disease
- Lowering fertility rates
A 2021 paper published in the scientific journal Global Ecology & Conservation found moderate levels of genetic differentiation between the northern and southern populations, indicating limited gene flow between the two regions.
A blueprint for conservation
- Students in the Nilgiris are being sensitised on the need to protect elephants.
- Ironically, most elephant reserves in India are found in mountainous habitats. Enclosing protected areas without ensuring connectivity through maintaining corridors for elephants to pass through severs gene flow between populations.
- Project Elephant:
- It is a centrally sponsored scheme and was launched in February 1992 for the protection of elephants, their habitats and corridors.
- The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change provides the financial and technical support to major elephant range states in the country through the project.
About Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve
- The first biosphere reserve in India established in the year 1986
- States: Located in the Western Ghats Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka
- Exemplifies the tropical forest biome which portrays the confluence of Afro-tropical and Indo-Malayan biotic zones of the world.
- One of the noted Biodiversity Hotspots (regions having highest density of endemic species) for speciation in the tropics.
- Vegetation: Evergreen, semi evergreen, moist deciduous montane sholas and grassland types of vegetation
- Fauna: Nilgiri tahr, Nilgiri langur, slender loris, blackbuck, tiger, gaur, Indian elephant and marten, Freshwater fishes such as Nilgiri danio (Devario neilgherriensis), Nilgiri barb (Hypselobarbus dubuis) and Bowany barb (Puntius bovanicus) are endemic to this Biosphere Reserve.
- Tribal population: Todas, , Kurumbas, Paniyas, Adiyans, Edanadan Chettis, Cholanaickens, Allar, Malayan, Kotas, Irullas, etc.
Source: The Hindu