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India drops elephant reserves for mining firms

Published by MAC on 2007-08-07

India drops elephant reserves for mining firms

By Bappa Majumdar, Reuters -

7th Aug 2007

KOLKATA, India - Authorities in eastern India have dropped plans to set up two new elephant reserves, enraging conservationists who say the decision threatens wildlife and is aimed at helping mining firms operate in the area.

Last year, the government approved two new reserves in the mineral-rich areas of Orissa state aimed at strengthening the conservation of elephants and other wildlife such as tigers, leopards, deer and hundreds of species of rare reptiles.

But conservationists claim the plans have been dropped to ease the way for big steel investors like Vedanta Resources Plc, JSW Steel and Arcelor Mittal to mine for iron ore, manganese and bauxite.

"Multi-nationals can now carry out mining easily and get all the environmental clearance without any impact study on wildlife at all," said Biswajit Mohanty of the Wildlife Society of Orissa.

Government officials denied the charge.

Conservationists said the reserves would have given extra protection to the large mammals who are increasingly losing their habitat due to deforestation and increasing industrial development, bring them into more conflict with humans.

Home to 50,000 elephants a century ago, India now has just a little over 21,000.

Experts say only 20 percent of India's landmass is forested and just 120,000 sq km (46,340 sq miles) -- less than four percent of the country -- of these forests are suitable elephant habitats.

"Nearly 1,900 elephants roam the jungles of Orissa, making it the biggest population in eastern India, so securing the elephant corridor was very important," said Shakti Ranjan Banerjee of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.

"The area for the two proposed elephant reserves was too big and that was why we withdrew the proposals," said P.N. Padhi, a senior official in Orissa's forest and environment department.

"The presence of mines in these areas is only a coincidence as we are quite serious about wildlife conservation."

The two reserves -- one in the northern area of Baitarani and the other in the south, including the Niyamgiri hills area -- would have covered a total area of nearly 15,000 sq km (5,800 sq miles).


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