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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Highways: from good to great

In 2006, I had written a blog post titled Why are elephants attacking people? On a related note is the problem of roads and other barriers interfering with the natural migration paths of elephants in the wild. In India, we are in a great phase of building infrastructure, but alongside this is a new level of distortion imposed upon the animals.

Mark Thoma's blog just led me to fascinating pictures from Kenya about elephant-friendly underpasses. This will reduce destructive human-animal interactions, and improve gene flow.

In Canada recently, I saw some remarkable construction work on the big highways. They have huge overpasses which are then forested over, to permit the animals to cross from one side to another. Here is the Google satellite imagery:

The scale on the left suggests that the overpass is roughly 50m wide, which is quite a bit. It is wide enough for grizzly bears and elk to cross without necessarily having unpleasant encounters with each other. The photograph also shows trees growing on the overpass. Here is what it looks like while on the road:

I had never imagined something of this scale before, but there appears to be a flourishing effort worldwide of this nature. Also see Home on the range: A corridor for wildlife by Cornelia Dean in the New York Times from 23 May 2006.

I rode by train through Rajaji National Park recently, and the train went very slow and made noise constantly, in an attempt to avoid killing elephants. The initiatives at reducing collisions between trains and elephants in that region appear to be working. In 2012, I read a story by Nidhi Sharma in the Economic Times about NHAI building 13 underpasses for animals over a 9 kilometer stretch on NH-7 through Pench Tiger Reserve. This is an important dimension to the fresh focus on road safety that needs to be a part of the large scale building of new roads that is now taking place in India.

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