The Bandipur National Park is home to precious flora and fauna, and vehicular traffic during the night will contribute to their destruction.

Explained Why environmentalists dont want vehicles to enter Bandipur forest at night
news Forest Protection Monday, October 07, 2019 - 15:23

With the Supreme Court recently upholding the existing night-time ban on vehicular traffic through Bandipur National Park in Karnataka’s Mysuru district, the protective regulation is being debated yet again, as people in neighbouring Kerala demand lifting the ban for their convenience.

Since 2009, movement of vehicles has been banned between 9 pm and 6 am on a 25 km stretch of National Highway 212 (766), which cuts through the Bandipur forest. This stretch is considered a core tiger habitat. During the period of the ban, commuters use a 44-km-long detour via Hunsur, Gonikoppal, Kutta and Mananthavady - areas bordering Karnataka and Kerala.

People in Kerala’s Wayanad district have been demanding that the ban be lifted, stating that the detour increases their travel time and affects tourism in the district. The Kerala government has also proposed the construction of an elevated corridor to bypass the ban. This has irked Karnataka Forest Department officials and environmentalists - both from Karnataka and Kerala - who say that movement of vehicles or the construction of flyovers will destroy the forest’s biodiversity, including the tiger habitat.

Even as the opposition to the nighttime traffic ban continues, here are the potentially disastrous consequences which environmentalists insist we will have to face if the ban is lifted.

Short-term impact

The ban was imposed by the Karnataka High Court in 2009 after it was found that at least 215 animals were run over by vehicles between 2004 and 2007 on NH-67 and NH-212. Following this, Tamil Nadu imposed a similar night traffic ban in Mudumalai Tiger Reserve.

According to wildlife activists, environmentalists and the Karnataka Forest Department officials, if the ban is lifted, the number of roadkills -  animals struck and killed by vehicles on highways - will go on a dizzying rise, as the forest is densely populated with a huge and diverse population of wildlife. Bandipur, incidentally, has the highest densities of Asiatic elephants and tigers - both endangered wildlife species.

Further, access to the forest habitat in the night, wildlife activists say, will cause rampant poaching of wildlife. There are also fears of the timber mafia cutting down trees during the night.

The effects of the ban will be felt by human settlements too. Being connected with forest areas of Madhumalai, Wayanad and Nagarhole, among others, Bandipur forms a passage for animals during the night hours - during the period of the ban - which is otherwise fragmented. If these passages are not maintained, animals will stray into the forest fringes and into human habitats.

Long-term impact

Bandipur is home to an array of endangered, threatened and vulnerable species of flora and fauna. From teak, rosewood and sandalwood to Indian gooseberry, flame of the forest and indigoberry, the forest is diverse and precious. The national park is also home to 158 tigers, 3000 elephants and a few thousand leopards and deer, among several other mammals, birds and insects.

This biodiversity, environmentalists fear, will be threatened or lost in the long run, if vehicles hit animals in the dark or flyovers are constructed. “Even a tiny insect or an invasive plant has its part to play in the intricate ecosystem. Removal of any of the components will break that particular food chain leading to ecological imbalance,” Karnataka based-senior IFS officer Ravindra Kumar tells TNM. 

Bandipur, along with the surrounding forests - Nagarhole National Park, Mudumalai National Park and Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary - form the Nilgiri Biosphere, which is a World Heritage Site. “Tampering with one forest will have larger implications on entire peninsular India,” points out J Manjunath, an eco-conservator and founder of the Wilderness Club.

Instances of flooding in the immediate surroundings will also increase, activists point out. Other than trapping water in many natural ponds and lakes, many major tributaries of the Cauvery also originate from these forests. With Cauvery being the prime freshwater source for states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, destroying the forests will eventually harm the cities as well, environmentalists say. 

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