~ Pakhi Das
As part of the Coalition for Wildlife Corridors (CWC), some of my work at the NCCI is to create rich profiles of a few corridors for the tiger movement in central India. That said – I had never been to one until June this year when colleagues from WWF India and I travelled through the beautiful Sal forests in the Kanha - Achanakmar Corridor (KAC) in the Central Indian Landscape. The purpose of this field trip was to have those collating information and writing corridor profiles get a chance to co-write with the field teams and learn about ground realities from the varied stakeholders. While secondary research had been extremely useful in laying the foundation of the corridor profile, this trip would allow me to interact with experts who had been working on the ground in the corridor area for years and learn new information first-hand, making the profile robust, relevant, and up to date.
The Boundaries That Wildlife Doesn’t Recognize
The KAC spans two forest divisions of Madhya Pradesh (East Mandla and Dindori) and three forest divisions of Chhattisgarh (Kawardha, Bilaspur and Mungeli). The corridor provides extensive habitats for various wild-animal species, including tigers, leopards, hyenas, jackals, and multiple species of deer. However, during the first nationwide lockdown due to the pandemic, herds of elephants also walked from Orrisa and Eastern Chattisgarh and found their home in the forests of this corridor. Tigers and elephants have always fascinated me, and though very slim, the possibility of sighting one or both during the trip was extremely exciting.
Rest Houses are the Best Houses
Meeting colleagues at WWF India’s field office at Bilaspur, we planned our route on a large physical map at the field office, marking rest houses for overnight stays. We spent the first night at the forest guesthouse at Shivterai, adjacent to the Kanha Achanakmar Tiger Reserve. At the guesthouse, we met some high-level forest department officials, including the APCC Wildlife, CCF Wildlife, and the Field Director and the Deputy Director of Achanakmar, with whom we discussed the aims and objectives of CWC and generally informed them of the collaborative efforts of the many partner organisations working for the conservation of wildlife corridors.
We stayed guesthouse overnight and resumed our onward journey through the dense forests at the core of ATR as well as the densely populated villages across the corridor to eventually reach the rest house at Chilpi near the Kanha Tiger Reserve with another overnight stay at the Aurapani Village.
Our journey involved many stops for either wild animal sightings in the jungle (we saw a leopard, a jackal, Malabar giant squirrels, a big herd of Indian bison and many species of birds), a quick snack by the shack, tea with the forest officers or chatting with community members residing in villages in the corridor area. I was in awe to witness how meaningful and unique relationships on the ground with forest officers or even community members are for the purpose of conservation. WWF staff have been working in the corridor for over two decades, reminiscing of early days in the field whenever we met people in our corridor travels. We were welcomed in rest houses, in the house of community members, and in the offices of divisional forest officers alike and that really felt really special.
‘Dropping knowledge’ and outreach with one bar of phone connectivity.
One other thing that was really special about this trip was this #KnowledgeSeries I did on my personal and the Global Youth Biodiversity Network social media accounts. Since I was travelling through a wildlife corridor, it seemed like a great opportunity to raise awareness about wildlife corridors in general. I used some basic media tools on Instagram to create visual posts to explain what wildlife corridors are, why they are necessary, and how rapidly increasing infrastructure development affects corridor connectivity. The series got excellent traction, and loads of people from outside the conservation community joined an exciting conservation-conversation online. You can check out the insta-stories here.
As for me, I cannot wait to see the next imperilled wild place to ground my conservation work that straddles policy and data more than fieldwork in the shade of Sal.
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