Report by WWF-India highlights threat by proposed railway line expansion to crucial corridor linking tiger habitats.
Kanha-Pench tiger corridor
Located in the Central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, the Kanha-Pench corridor is one of the most important forest corridors in India and facilitates tiger dispersal between Kanha and Pench Tiger Reserves. It covers an area of 16,000 sq km and acts as a refuge for several other mammals such as wild dogs, sloth bear, leopard, hyena, jackal, and sambar to name a few. The Kanha-Pench Corridor also harbours gaur and is known to facilitate their movement. The presence in the corridor of wild prey such as gaur, sambar, chital can help prevent killing of cattle by tigers and thus prevent retaliatory conflict with locals.
Importance of corridors
Sub-adult male tigers are forced to move out of areas where they are born and find new territories. These dispersing sub-adult males are often the ones that manage to use a corridor and get to the adjacent protected area.
A tiger passing through a corridor forest has to confront a range of challenges such as hostile villagers, retaliatory poisoning of livestock kills, poaching of tigers and prey, electrocution by live wires, apart from road and rail traffic. The widening of railway lines and construction and widening of roads in such a corridor will result in fragmentation of the corridor and thereby make dispersal all the more difficult for tigers and other animals that use the corridor.
Such corridors are vital for the long term survival and viability of tigers as they connect smaller tiger populations (eg. Pench and Achanakmar) to larger source populations such as Kanha. Without these linkages tiger populations isolated within individual tiger reserves face the risk of extinction due to poaching and loss in genetic vigour over generations.
Threat to the Kanha-Pench Corridor
South Central Railway has proposed the diversion of approximately 70 hectares of forest land falling within the Kanha-Pench Corridor for conversion of the current Nainpur-Balaghat narrow gauge section to broad gauge. This proposed conversion is part of the larger Gondia-Jabalpur Broad Gauge project in Central India. There is also a proposed Nainpur-Balaghat state highway that will come up almost parallel to the railway line. To ascertain the potential impacts of these expansions a site inspection was carried out by WWF-India, under the leadership of tiger biologist Joseph Vattakaven.