BOZEMAN, MT, December 8, 2021 – An international group of more than 25 elephant biologists and infrastructure ecologists released a report this week with an urgent message: All efforts to avoid key Asian elephant habitats and their migration corridors need to be made when developing linear infrastructure like roads, railways, and canals. If this is not possible, wildlife crossings are key to providing safe passage for this endangered species. The report comes in response to an explosion of new linear infrastructure across Asia that is increasingly blocking elephant movement and leading to deadly collisions.
The groundbreaking report “Protecting Asian Elephants from Linear Transport Infrastructure,” released by the Asian Elephant Transport Working Group and co-authored by staff from the Center for Large Landscape Conservation, outlines this growing threat and proposes solutions to protect this important species before it’s too late. Asian elephants once roamed widely throughout Asia, but now only around 52,000 animals remain in isolated pockets of Southern and Southeast Asia, and populations are declining.
“Across the 13 countries where Asian elephants still roam, the stressors of an expanding human presence are becoming more evident,” says co-author Rob Ament, co-chair of the Transport Working Group and senior conservationist at the Center for Large Landscape Conservation. “Tragically, India, an elephant stronghold, has documented more than 180 elephants killed by trains in a little more than ten years.” says Ament.
Ament also points to the herd of elephants that made international headlines in 2020 and 2021 while traveling hundreds of miles away from China’s Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve. Experts believe their unexpected journey was a direct result of increasing habitat loss and human intrusion.
Asian elephants thrive when they have the freedom to follow their traditional movement routes to access food, water, and mates. However, more frequently, transport infrastructure is stopping them. When a changing climate is factored in, it is especially important that these wide-ranging animals have the freedom to move and adapt.
Based on the latest research, the report reviews the evidence of impacts that transport infrastructure growth is having on Asian elephant populations and presents guidelines, policies, laws, practices, and emerging technologies that could reduce the risks. In addition, seven case studies from Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, and Malaysia illustrate how conflicts are being effectively addressed through the construction of wildlife crossings.
The publication is being distributed widely to professionals involved with infrastructure development in Asia, including those working in government agencies, financial institutions, industry, and non-governmental organizations. The 12 co-authors hope the report, anticipated to be translated into multiple languages, will communicate the urgency and set in motion a more comprehensive approach to the long-term conservation of Asian elephants.
“We can’t afford to wait, since new linear infrastructure development is expanding rapidly. Ideally, new transport infrastructure can avoid crossing through key elephant habitat altogether,” says Ament. “But if that can’t happen, then we need to build elephant-sized wildlife crossings where they are needed, and we must get started as soon as possible.”
About the Asian Elephant Transport Working Group
The Asian Elephant Transport Working Group is a joint collaboration of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas’ Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group (CCSG) and the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Asian Elephant Specialist Group (AsESG). It is focused on contributing to the improvement of core habitats and movement corridors that are threatened by new development and upgrading of linear infrastructure – especially roads, railways, and canals.
About the Center for Large Landscape Conservation:
The Center for Large Landscape Conservation is the hub of a growing global movement to reverse fragmentation of the earth’s large landscapes and restore nature’s resilience to climate change. The Center works to advance ecological connectivity worldwide by reconnecting natural areas, providing critical wildlife habitat and safe migration for wide-ranging animals, and protecting ecosystem processes. They accomplish this by developing science, crafting policy, and sharing expertise with communities around the world. Since 2016, they have served as Secretariat of the IUCN WCPA Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group and its Transport Working Group. Largelandscapes.org
The report “Protecting Asian Elephants from Linear Transport Infrastructure” was made possible through the collaboration of many partners, and funding from the New York Community Trust, Elephant Family, Woodcock Foundation, and other donors.
Christine Gianas Weinheimer
Center for Large Landscape Conservation