(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Opinion | Safe passage for big cats

Public policy must ensure that endangered species face no threat from mankind’s intrusion into their habitat

A rare event was recorded last week on a trap camera at Animal Under Pass 8 on National Highway 44, which passes through the Pench National Reserve in Maharashtra. A chital (spotted deer) was hunted down and killed by a pack of wild dogs in broad daylight. The event was dubbed as “exciting" by Wildlife Institute of India experts, according to whom, this was a sign that wild animals from Pench had steadily taken to using the underpasses created for them to cross roads safely. Even more heartening is that tigers are among the most regular users of these passages.

Concerns over wildlife protection heightened after NH-44 was expanded to four lanes, and a full-grown tiger and full-grown leopard, among others, fell victim to vehicular traffic. As part of India’s first bona fide wildlife mitigation measures, the National Highways Authority of India, under Bombay High Court directives, built nine underpasses along NH-44 as safe corridors for animals. A host of animals have taken to traipsing through these in the past couple of months, occasionally even sleeping and gambolling around, and a total of 11 tigers have been observed using them.

Yet, wayward tigers are still to be spotted on the highway tarmac, and wildlife activists are raising questions on the efficacy of these measures. Critics say the underpasses are too few and ill designed to achieve full safety. If this is the case, then future underpasses ought to take the experience of existing ones into account and address the lacunae. In general, public policy must ensure that endangered species face no threat from mankind’s intrusion into their habitat. As International Tiger Day approaches, let’s hope our conservation efforts get both the ideas and financial resources they deserve.

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