[Commentary] Landscape connectivity for better sustainability

Photo by Saurav Chaudhary.

  • India has proven success in conservation of species at a landscape level by connecting several protected areas together and not just focusing on the single protected area.
  • A study by Wildlife Institute of India proposes connectivity between the protected areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh for animal sustainability in the central Indian landscape.
  • Connectivity of protected areas and their legal validation will create hope for the delimitation of boundaries to the longterm survival of wild animals, write the WII researchers in this commentary.

Landscape connectivity is characterised by the likelihood of having a connected habitat cluster spanning the countryside. Landscape integration is an intuitive and practical approach for combating habitat loss and the resulting decrease in biodiversity by sharing the responsibility of habitat degradation among all the concerned stakeholders.

India has several success stories in the conservation of species when considering the protection at a landscape level, by connecting several protected areas. One such example is the conservation of the tiger population in the Terai-arc landscape where protected areas in this landscape, which once were considered one of the most fragmented and threatened ecosystems in Asia, were integrated.

In the same manner, India succeeded in the conservation of one-horned rhinoceros in Assam. It increased the population of the species by more than 2500 by connecting seven of the state’s protected sites: Kaziranga, Pobitora, Orang national park, Manas national park, Laokhowa wildlife sanctuary (WLS), Burachapori wildlife sanctuary, and Dibru Saikhowa wildlife sanctuary. Better connectivity also recorded 190 tigers in Assam (2018 census). The state had just 70 tigers in 2006 and has thus achieved 250% growth.

Replicating the success story

A study was conducted by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun in 2019 in Gautam Buddha Wildlife Sanctuary and Koderma Wildlife Sanctuary in the landscape of Bihar and Jharkhand. We extended our approach to figure out the connectivity between adjoining protected areas in central India to get a real picture on the ground to propose connectivity and restoration plans for protected areas to conserve wildlife.

In this study, we focused on Gautam Buddha Wildlife Sanctuary in Bihar, Koderma WLS, Hazaribagh WLS, Lawalong WLS, Palamau tiger reserve, Betla National park and Saranda forest in Jharkhand, Bandhavgarh tiger reserve and Sanjay tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh, Guru Ghasidas Tiger Reserve in Chattisgarh and Similipal Tiger Reserve in Odisha.

Based on direct and indirect evidence from the field and secondary information collected from different sources, we looked for a link between these protected areas to sustain wild animals in the central Indian landscape. Based on our sample collection, we found that Gautam Buddha WLS and Koderma WLS have better connectivity between them for dispersal of animals in the present scenario. Both these protected areas have high faunal diversity.

Read more: Keeping India’s tiger tapestry alive by connecting landscapes

Occasionally, these protected areas also mark the elephant’s visit from the adjoining Hazaribagh WLS and Palamau tiger reserve through Lawalong WLS. The earlier tiger census reports also show tiger movement and assert that the population can be restored if some management intervention is taken.

Forest view at the boundary of Gautam Buddha WLS and Koderma WLS. Photo by Saurav Chaudhary.

Based on the research, the proposed connectivity between the protected areas is illustrated in the following subheads:

1) The link between Hazaribagh WLS and Saranda forest

In Jharkhand, the elephants are mainly concentrated in two sanctuaries – the Palamu tiger reserve in the northwestern part of the state and the other in the rich natural forests of Saranda in the southernmost part of the state. The traditional routes of the elephants exist since times immemorial. A group of 125 elephants has been seen to disperse from the Saranda forest to the jungles of Hazaribagh WLS. There is a contiguous patch of forest between Saranda forest and Hazaribagh WLS that provides a corridor to the elephant population, and from Hazaribagh WLS, the herd further moves to Koderma WLS and Gautam Buddha WLS.

Proposed connectivity plan between protected area at a landscape level. Google Earth image courtesy researchers.

2) The link between Saranda forest and Similipal Tiger Reserve

Saranda in Jharkhand is a prime elephant habitat and forms the core of the Singhbhum elephant reserve. Although the mining pattern in the Saranda forest forced the elephant to move to Odisha which has now become a regular pattern. Elephant herds moves from Saranda to Similipal in Odisha by Badam Pahar–Dhobadhobin corridor and Badam Pahar–Karida corridor. Also, the major source population of tigers in Odisha is in Similipal. It has the potential to sustain the large population size due to its better habitat, and there might be a possibility that the tiger population would also migrate through the connecting corridor.

3) Connectivity between Palamu Tiger Reserve, Lawalong WLS, Koderma WLS, and Hazaribagh WLS

Lawalong Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Deccan Plateau Province of Chotanagpur Plateau Biogeographic Zone, having an area of 211.03 square km. Movement of elephants from Palamu Tiger Reserve and Chatra WLS is observed through this sanctuary. The forests of the Lawalong also act as a corridor connecting Palamau Tiger Reserve and Hazaribag WLS for the elephants’ movement. Koderma WLS also provides a better habitat for Indian grey wolf, a schedule I species under the Wildlife Protection Act, and this species has its connectivity with Palamu. A corridor was observed between the Palamu Tiger Reserve and Koderma WLS for the movement of the species.

4) Connectivity between Palamau Tiger Reserves, Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, Sanjay-Dubri Tiger Reserve, and Guru Ghasidas Tiger Reserve

Sanjay-Dubri Tiger Reserve is spread over an area of 1674.511 square km and is situated on the northeastern part of Madhya Pradesh, bordered by Guru Ghasidas National Park on the south. It is part of the Bandhavgarh-Sanjay-Guru Ghasidas-Palamau landscape. Sanjay TR and Guru Ghasi Das Tiger Reserve is a contiguous forest patch; this patch continues as Tamorpingla WLS. From Tamorpingla WLS, two forested arms project eastwards and serve as corridors to connect with Palamau TR. This habitat holds excellent potential for recovering tiger populations currently; they have a low density of tigers, but with management inputs and connection with Bandhavgarh source, they can be revived.

Limitations to connectivity

Connectivity between the protected areas of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Chattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh might be a possible link for animal sustainability in the central Indian landscape. Such a proposed plan will replicate India’s other success stories of conservation and result in an increase in population.

However, there are some limitations to corridor connectivity between the protected areas, with linear development projects and anthropogenic pressures as the common ones. Many national highways pass through these protected areas, and several others are in the queue for permission. Such infrastructure has an essential contribution to habitat fragmentation.

Recently, the Government of India via DFCCIL (Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India) has proposed a railway track, passing through Gautam Buddha WLS and another through Palamu tiger reserve. Such linear infrastructure would restrict the connectivity between Gautam Buddha WLS and Koderma WLS. Increased iron mining intensity in the Saranda forest poses a threat to the remaining elephant corridor that connects the Saranda and Similipal Tiger reserve.

Read more: Mining devours Saranda, the largest sal forest in Asia

Likewise, Limestone mining around the Hazaribagh WLS would restrict the animal movement from the Saranda forest and Lawalong WLS. Hazaribagh and Lawalong WLS have a high intensity of human habitation at their periphery, and day by day, it is expending that might pose a problem for better connectivity.

Palamu Tiger reserve forms a crucial linkage via a forest of Chattisgarh up to Sanjay National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Forest patches of these three states spread in an area of 12580 Km2 and can harbor a good tiger population. But the major problem in managing this tiger population is insurgency. If this problem is restored this area could serve as a good source of tiger population.

Web of linear infrastructure intersecting the protected areas. Google Earth image courtesy researchers.

Way forward

The present study provides a basis for landscape-level connectivity of corridors between different protected areas. This creates hope for the effective delimitation of boundaries to the wild animals’ long-term survival. When such a suggested pattern gets a legal description, a boon for wild animals living on this landscape will be ascertained.

Recently. the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change issued a proposal to notify an Ecological Sensitive Zone (ESZ) of 5 km diameter around protected areas Gautam Buddha Wildlife Sanctuary, Palamu Tiger Reserve, Lawalong WLS, and Hazaribagh WLS. The ESZ will somehow reduce the anthropogenic pressure on the protected area defined for the connectivity. The proposed blueprint further needs the opinion of environmentalists, policymakers, and all the related stakeholders. When consensus on the current plan is reached, a comprehensive management plan could be drawn up to move together in the right direction for the well-being of wild creatures.

Dipak Anand is a researcher and S. A. Hussain and Ruchi Badola are senior scientists at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. 


WII, 2020 Impact mitigation plan for Koderma Detour Dedicated Freight Corridor on Gautam Buddha Wildlife Sanctuary.  Final Report, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun

Banner image: Deer in Gautam Buddha WLS. The deer wears a ringing bell around its neck like a domesticated calf, indicating the presence of humans in the area and their interaction with wildlife. Photo by Saurav Chaudhary.

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