With rapid expansion of National Highway (NH) network in the country and many sections and stretches traversing forests and protected areas, road kills of wildlife species have increased to dizzying heights. More than 55,000 kilometers of road traverses through forests in India.
Roadways in India have remained the biggest killers of big and small herbivores and carnivores. There is not a single day without a report of a road kill of some or the other wild species.
According to Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, the rate of development of roads has increased significantly from about 11.7 km during 2013-14 to about 30 km now. Further, till November 2019, about 5958 km length of NH has been constructed with many of them falling in forest areas.
SOME NATIONAL HIGHWAYS CROSSING TIGER RESERVES: MANY SLATED AND LISTED FOR EXPANSION
- NH-7 and 69 (PENCH, SATPURA TR)
- NH-766 and NH-67 (BANDIPUR TR, WAYANAD SANCTUARY)
- NH-6 (SIMPLIPAL, NAGZIRA, BOR, MELGHAT TR)
- NH-44 (SATPURA, PENCH, KANHA, BANDHAVGARH, ETC)
- NH-20 (KEONJHAR)
- NH-37 (KAZHIRANGA)
- NH-72 and 74 (RAJAJI TR)
- NH-209 (BRT TR)
- NH-363 (KAWAL TR)
A striped Civet was Killed on Haliyal-Dandeli Road, Belagavi district, Karnataka on November 12, 2020
WHERE ARE THE MITIGATION MEASURES?
The MoRT&H states in view of expansion of the national highway network in the country, they are taking various steps to make these highways safe for the commuters and minimize adverse impact on the environment. But there is no mention or word about mitigation measures for protection of wildlife which have become victims of India’s urgent need for connectivity.
The expansion of highways from four to six lanes is going on in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and a host of other states. Except for Pench Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, all new NHs have neither incorporated any underpasses or safe crossings for wildlife movement even when these highways criss-cross reserve forests, sanctuaries, national parks and tiger reserves.
If iconic species like elephant and tigers too have become victims of road kill, the toll count of other species like leopards, antelopes, civets, snakes, amphibians, smaller reptiles and mammals is unaccounted and unknown.
On August 10, 2020, a speeding vehicle hit an adult leopard on Bengaluru-Tumakuru National Highway at Kyatsandra, Tumakuru district in Karnataka
This was followed by another leopard death on Jigani-Uraganadoddi Road in Anekal outside Bannerghatta National Park that sees lot of wildlife movement. This time it was a cub that died on the outskirts of Bengaluru on August 13, 2020. It was reportedly hit by a speeding vehicle on Wednesday midnight.
Roads have been built and expanded in India without understanding the need for wildlife crossings from one protected area to another and from one reserve forest to another. The list of wildlife road kills in the last few years is mindboggling and Green Minute cites here only a few incidents as 90 percent of killings either are never known or reported.
The need for 12-hour Night Traffic Ban in Bandipur is necessary as herds of deer can be seen on NH-67 and 766 crisscrossing it and some of them becoming victims of roadkill
Added to this, during the monsoons, killings increase especially in the Western Ghat bound states of Goa, Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Maharashtra. Most vehicle drivers speed on in these hilly terrains without a care in view of lack of speed breakers and warnings and failure to impose fines.
Added to this, the National Highway Authority of India has neither incorporated any mitigation measure nor added even some safety measure in major ghat roads that were expanded or are being expanded in Goa and Karnataka. The less said the better on the ongoing expansion between these two states with felling of thousands of trees and destruction of bird species nestlings.
On November 15, 2020, a tiger died in a road kill near Akola on Panna Amanganj Road near Panna Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra.
Apart from this, almost every year, one or two tigers are killed in road kills in the country. Baji Rao of Bor Wildlife Sanctuary was killed on NH-6 in 2018, earlier to this, a deer and a male leopard were killed on the same stretch. Most tiger reserves in the country has long stretches of national highways fragmenting its area and despite, speed humps and warnings, it has made no difference to vehicle drivers who speed on forest roads.
On November 11, near Suryamal on Wada-Nashik Road in Maharashtra, a Chameleon was found dead with its sac full of eggs, lying bare open on the road.
It is not iconic species but also reptiles like lizards and snakes that are being mercilessly killed on the roads adjoining forest areas in the country.
The death of reptiles is hardly noticed on roads and highways of India
The killings of antelopes be it spotted deer or sambar has been reported from various parts of the country and sometimes on city outskirts of major metros. Unfortunately, many road kills of chital (despite the night traffic ban) have occurred in the core areas of tiger reserves wherever national highways crisscross.
A spotted deer killed on March 13, 2019 near Bandipur Kere, a water body in the tiger reserve
On many national highways or state highways, a lot of other kills –snakes of different varieties were sighted and they had been killed mostly during the night time.
An unidentified snake killed on Bengaluru-Mysuru highway in August 2019
And most of the times, these wildlife kills have been difficult to identify. With no solution in sight and road and highway authorities turning a deaf ear, wildlife kills continue unabated.
Another road kill of a snake in the midnight on a Highway
Apart from this, it is the continuing road kills of spotted big cat that has been a worrying factor. Living very close to human settlements and being fast animals, many leopards have died on roads adjoining reserve forests and most of the kills have been due to speeding cars and unconcerned drivers mowing down this species and killing them instantly.
A female leopard (her three cubs went missing) was killed by a speeding car despite speed humps at Nagarhole on 29 March, 2018 at D B Kuppe near the tiger reserve
Some of the national highways in national parks and sanctuary areas of India are a big threat to even big mammals like leopards. Road kills nowadays are even seeing the death of sloth bears and elephants. There is an urgent need to take preventive measures in the highways adjacent to national park and sanctuaries as also make road users sensitive to the needs of moving wildlife.
Curbing vehicular speeds, installing speed breakers in forest areas and imposing high fines are some of the mandatory measures needed in wildlife zones.
It is high time the MoRT&H as also the state transport department woke up and fixed a low speed level less than 30 kilometres wherever national highways fragment tiger reserves, national park and sanctuaries for many kilometres.
In one of the most shocking incidents of elephant road kill in India, three elephants were killed by a bus and two speeding trucks on NH-20 in Keonjhar district of Odisha in August 20, 2019.
A herd of 12 elephants were crossing the busy highway when a bus and two ore laden trucks speeding during the night killed a mother and her calf and another female elephant in Odisha’s NH-20.
Another female elephant which was seriously injured too succumbed in the shocking accident. The national highway where the elephants were killed is an elephant corridor while the NH-20 is considered a death trap for these gentle giants.
On October 8, 2018, Ranga, the famous elephant from Bannerghatta, Bengaluru who roamed freely for decades in the forests of Karnataka, died in a roadkill causing grief to many wildlife lovers.
45-year-old Ranga was returning to the Mathigodu elephant camp near Kodagu after grazing in the forest. He was hit by a private bus coming from Kannur, Kerala and going to Bengaluru at around 3 am. He suffered a spinal injury and breathed his last after struggling for four hours.
The story of road kills of our depleting wildlife in our fragmentated and non-contiguous forests continues unabated and unless and until, some permanent mitigation measures are taken by authorities, innocent animals will be killed for no fault of theirs even as the Central and State governments are busy adding linear structures in forest areas.