Poor road infrastructure causes most wildlife deaths in Nepal

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A one-horned rhino died after falling into a roadside ditch under construction in the Bharandabhar corridor of the Chitwan National Park earlier this week.

On March 28, 2021, an autorickshaw collided with a tiger on the Postal Highway in Thori, Chitwan. Because the driver fled after the accident, the injured tiger was left unattended. Last year, a 10-year-old tigress died after being hit by a car in the forest of the sub-metropolitan city of Jitpur Simara-1 in Bara.

Every year, large numbers of wild animals die from road accidents and fall prey to management structures. In the 2019/20 financial year, around 61% (67 out of 108) of wildlife deaths were due to traffic accidents. As many as 43 wild animals have been killed in road accidents in and around Banke National Park alone. Experts and stakeholders say the lack of road-friendly infrastructure has contributed to the increase in wildlife deaths in Nepal.

The cost of random development

In recent years, traffic accidents involving wild animals have increased, mainly on highways that pass through the dense forests of the Terai national parks. These roads are not wildlife-friendly, leading to multiple accidents and several wildlife deaths.

According to Haribhadra Acharya, the conservation officer of Chitwan National Park, the rhino died earlier this week as the road widening project proceeded recklessly. He informs that the park wrote a letter to the Chitwan road division office, complaining that the works were carried out without any preliminary environmental impact assessment. This was done without permission to fell trees or pay attention to wildlife safety.

Recent creeping infrastructural development is occurring without attention to crossing or any other aspect of wildlife habitat and its biological route during natural migration. For these reasons, experts say, infrastructure built for the comfort of human beings becomes a “trap” for wildlife.

Animal rights campaigners say attention should be on building underpasses and overpasses around roads for wildlife to walk on so the number of wildlife deaths can decrease.

According to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC), of the 1,028 kilometers of the East-West Highway, 200 kilometers fall under national parks. Banke National Park has 100 kilometers of highway while 30 kilometers are in Bardiya National Park, 20 in Parsa, eight in Shuklaphanta National Park and five in Chitwan. Dozens of wildlife deaths occur each year on the roads in these regions.

The same problem exists with strategic road networks and rural roads, including in mid-mountain areas, post roads, Madan Bhandari highway and north-south corridor highways. Moreover, the main wildlife habitats are also located in these areas. Despite this, no studies have been conducted to get the exact number.

The easy solution

A rhino was found dead in a roadside ditch, in Bharatpur of Chitwan, on Sunday, January 23, 2022.

The construction of highways often takes the forest route to avoid land compensation disputes. For the same reason, the number of unpaved roads turned into concrete has also increased.

This has led to an increase in wildlife deaths, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature in Nepal. On the other hand, people who use the roads within the speed limits of national parks are also at risk of being attacked by wildlife.

The government is failing in every way, from paying attention to caution when building to making infrastructure wildlife-friendly.

Conservationists say the true number of wildlife deaths is even higher because the number of wildlife that have died in forest areas after being injured in road accidents has not been counted. Meanwhile, they also say that not all recorded wildlife deaths can be classified as traffic accidents.

Not only collisions with vehicles, but also infrastructure such as canals, power lines, etc. also cause the death of wild animals. Other than that, wildlife looking for food and water has been more accident prone. A WWF study shows that accidents are more frequent in winter.

Underpasses have been constructed at four locations from Ramnagar and Aptari along the Muglin-Narayangadh road section to Chitwan. For the first time in Nepal, underground passages have been built in order to avoid possible deaths of wild animals.

Essential responsible actions

A car hit a tiger in Banke.

Conservationists say it is the responsibility of development agencies to ensure the movement of wildlife through parks, reserves and forests is not hindered and will not cause harm. wild animal deaths. For this, they need the construction of roads, railways, transmission lines, hydroelectric projects, gas and drinking water pipes, river embankments and wildlife-friendly canals.

Ideally, during any infrastructure project, the person concerned should focus on the conservation of protected and endangered species, reduce human-wildlife conflicts and not disturb the ecosystem.

However, rampant development has greatly affected wildlife. So far, the Department of Roads has not determined what type of infrastructure needs to be built in sensitive areas, including forests, parks and conservation areas, so that the number of wildlife deaths can decrease.

WWF scientist Dr. Gokarna Jung Thapa points out that there is a need for passages such as underpasses and overpasses for wildlife welfare. It will also be crucial to prevent ancient wildlife that has become man-eating from entering human settlements.

“Dense forests have been penetrated by various infrastructure, disrupting the natural movement of wildlife and putting wildlife at risk. Moreover, it hinders their genetic development and future generations,” says Thapa.

Lack of government response

An underpass designed for wildlife along Chitwan’s Narayangadh-Mugling Highway

Despite the dozens of recommendations, the government has not yet responded to them. Environmentalists have been calling for such a directive for five years now. But the agenda was limited to the ministry’s draft directive.

On the Kathmandu-Nijgadh highway and the Narayangarh-Butwal road expansion, there are wildlife crossings (over and under) under construction. However, the road department has no immediate plans to install level crossings on the roads already built. Even with the re/grading of the roads, there are no plans to build underground passages for the animals.

Department spokesman Shiva Prasad Nepal said it had only been a few years since there had been positive debate on the subject.

“We do not have enough data and qualified human resources on wildlife deaths. With the sensitive issues being debated now, it seems necessary to make efforts to make future infrastructure wildlife-friendly with more study and regular discussion,” he says, adding that this will take a concerted effort.

The department hopes that the new road section from Kamala to Narayangadh via Pathalaiya along the east-west highway will include the required number of wildlife passes.

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