Late last year, in the buffer area of Navegaon Nagzira Tiger Reserve in Satpuda, central India, a 6km stretch of road was widened. The road runs right through thick forest, so as part of the project, trees were torn down and tarmac was laid.
Widening the road may have been seen as a positive development for infrastructure in the area, but for wildlife, it was a huge setback.
“A few years ago, roads such as these were just extraction routes. But now, all these roads are being metalled, widened, for reasons best known to them. That is fragmenting the forest to a great extent,” says Harshawardhan Dhanwatey, Co-Founder of the Tiger Research and Conservation Trust, part of Born Free’s Living with Tigers programme which is working in Satpuda to protect wild tigers.
Fragmentation is when human development such as road widening prevents wildlife from roaming freely in their natural habitat. If a busy road cuts through their territory, wildlife is forced to either stay in one area or risk crossing it.
“This is one of the reasons why we have seen a number of road kills where tigers or other animals get hit by speeding traffic,” Dhanwatey explains. “There are a lot of wildlife kills, especially large carnivores being knocked down. So, these are issues which need to be addressed in our fringe areas.”
In India, as the human population continues to grow, the space for wildlife is under exceptional pressure and road widening projects are taking place all over the country.
Thankfully, Born Free’s Living with Tigers programme has made an impact. When a new highway was built through a forest corridor within Satpuda, Born Free’s Living with Tigers programme worked to ensure that it was elevated so that wildlife could pass beneath it. Road signs have also been introduced across Satpuda warning drivers about the presence of wildlife and that wildlife has the right of way.
Living with Tigers continues to work with the Indian government to ensure that any development takes into account the impact on wildlife. This is vital, says Dhanwatey. “A lot of change is needed in the thought process when you build roads where there is a lot of wildlife straying outside protected areas.”
With your help, Born Free’s Living with Tigers programme can continue to safeguard wild tiger populations in India and create more protected areas so that wildlife can flourish.