Here’s a riddle.
Why did the leopard cross the road?
Because she was hungry, and she saw a zebra crossing.
Actually, that’s not true. Unlike us, leopards don’t understand that you need to look first left, then right, then left again, before crossing the road. They don’t know the rules behind the zebra crossing stripes on the road either (honestly, who can blame them, motorists also don’t seem to know that they shouldn’t stand on the zebra crossing; pedestrians have the right of way there). All these rules are made by humans, and it is silly of us to pave a road in the middle of a forest, and then expect leopards or elephants or other animals to know road crossing rules.
Nor do animals get boundaries. Your house or apartment block must have a wall and a gate to mark its perimeter. You know that you can’t just jump into another person’s house (unless you know them) because one, it’s not polite, and two, it’s not safe, and hello, it’s trespassing. But these are man-made boundaries. We don’t ask for permission from forest animals before mowing their trees down to build houses, grow crops, or mine for minerals. According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2016, the Global Forest Resources Assessment reports that since 1990, on a gross basis, we have lost a total of 239 million hectares of natural forest!
This means that there is lesser forest cover for animals to call their home, and it’s not that surprising when you hear news of a leopard coming into a school on a Sunday. After all, we can’t expect them to know these man-made boundary walls.
Further, our roads are becoming a point for human-animal conflict. Roadkill — that is wildlife killed on the road by motor accidents — has become a major threat to conservation. A study conducted by Panthera showed that 23 leopards were killed in Karnataka between July 2009 and June 2014 because of road accidents.
In a research paper titled Roadkill Animals on National Highways of Karnataka, by Selvan et. al, the authors conducted a survey to understand how many animals were killed on National Highways NH212 and NH67, which pass through Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka in 2007. They found that 423 animals of 29 species were killed between January and June. Isn’t that awful?
According to the Wildlife Conservation Foundation (WCF), at least three large animals are killed in accidents on these highways. And these include tigers, elephants, leopards, deer, sloth bears, snakes and birds. The good news is that in 2010, the group, with the help of the Wildlife Trust of India and the High Court, was able to ban night traffic in Bandipur. A good thing because 65 per cent of wildlife roadkills until that time were being documented at night.
This is, of course, only Karnataka. But there are so many instances of leopards and other animals becoming victims of accidents — either road or rail — across the country. What can be done about this? Plenty. For instance, not allowing roads or rail networks to be built inside forests or corridors, which animals use to pass from one jungle to another. Many forest departments now have installed neon boards and speed breakers to slow those hurtling vehicles going at top speed in the night. Or like the WCF managed to do — restricting vehicular traffic at night.
The good folks at the Nature Conservation Foundation – India have come up with a fabulous strategy in Tamil Nadu. They have installed seven canopy bridges in the rainforests of the Valparai region — aerial bridges (high up above the ground) that connect tree canopies that were otherwise too far apart across the roads. And it’s already showing results — lion-tailed macaques can cross the road without having to look left, right, and left again, and they don’t have to get down from their trees and dodge passing traffic.
What else do you think can be done? We’d love to hear from you with your ideas. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org