End Of The Road For The Grizzled Squirrel?
October 2008: Most of India’s wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, large and small, are dismembered by roads and rail lines. These pose a serious threat to wildlife, fragmenting the habitat and resulting in road kills. Conservationists are, therefore, horrified to learn that a new 8.66 km. road has been proposed in the Srivilliputtur Grizzled Squirrel Sanctuary in T.N., between Kilavan Koil and Kodikkulam Kudisai.
Kerala's famous Periyar Tiger Reserve adjoins this wilderness. Tigers have been sighted here and the road will cut through a vital elephant corridor too. A road already exists between Srivilliputhur and Theni, which is in fact shorter than the proposed one. Ironically, it is the Forest Department that is pushing for this road, claiming it will further wildlife protection. The plan involves hacking down hundreds of trees, and the creation of this new road will encourage more traffic through this pristine area.
Tragically, the cutting of 620 forest trees has already been cleared by the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), which did not deem fit to ask for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) or even visit the site prior to taking this bad decision. The NBWL has, however, asked for the road width to be reduced from 10 to six metres, but how the State Chief Wildlife Warden can claim that this road will not adversely impact wildlife defies common sense. Conservationists openly suggest that pressure has been brought to bear on officials to force them to sanction the road.
The grizzled giant squirrel Ratufa macroura is an arboreal creature and any opening in the canopy will have an adverse impact on it. An estimate conducted in 2007 suggests that just under 800 endangered grizzled squirrels exist in the 480 sq. km. forest.
Other animals found here include the Indian giant squirrel, slender loris, Nilgiri langur, lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri marten, Nilgiri tahr, gaur and dhole. It has also been notified as an Important Bird Area.
Conservationists aver that ‘protection’ is only a pretext and that the road will actually result in facilitating the movement of poachers and ganja (marijuana) cultivators who operate both in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
A final decision on the road must now be taken by the Supreme Court’s Central Empowered Committee (CEC), but the clearance by officials of the National Board for Wildlife is ominous. Sanctuary readers are requested to join issue with the National Board for Wildlife and ask for the concept of roadless wildernesses to be accepted for India, along the lines of the United States, which has adopted the Roadless Area Conservation Rule to conserve 58.5 million acres of pristine National Forests and Grasslands where no logging or road construction is allowed.
Sanctuary readers can express their concerns to the Central Empowered Committee by making these points:
1. The Srivilliputtur Grizzled Squirrel Sanctuary will become fragmented and less hospitable for not just the endangered grizzled giant squirrel for which it has been set up, but also all the other wildlife that lives here.
2. The new road is totally unnecessary as another road already exists to service traffic.
3. If ‘protection’ is the reason for this road, this aim can be better achieved through the setting up of
anti- poaching camps in the forest and instituting regular foot patrols by guards as is done in the adjoining Periyar Tiger Reserve.
The Member Secretary,
Central Empowered Committee,
Constituted by the Honorable Supreme Court of India,
2nd Floor, Chanakya Bhavan,
New Delhi 110 003.
National Board for Wildlife
New Delhi 110 003.