Uttarakhand’s Shivalik Reserve is Home to 2,000 Elephants. They’ll Now Share It With an Airport

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Uttarakhand’s Shivalik Reserve is Home to 2,000 Elephants. They’ll Now Share It With an Airport

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Since its establishment in 2002, the Shivalik Elephant Reserve has been one of Uttarakhand’s natural attractions. But at a meeting of the state’s wildlife board, chaired by Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, steps have been taken to denotify the reserve, which will cause it to lose its status as a protected forest. Part of the former Shivalik Elephant Reserve is expected to be used for an expansion project at Dehradun’s Jolly Grant Airport. News reports say the airport expansion will require 84 hectares of land, and expect some 10,000 trees to be felled to make way for the new structures.

The move to denotify the Shivalik Elephant Reserve is another instance of India’s natural splendour being sacrificed at the altar of development. Earlier this month, another sanctuary in Rajasthan was also denotified in order to facilitate mining operations for the pink sandstone in the area. Now, the Shivalik Elephant Reserve will also lose its protected status, a move that has proven unpopular with environmental activists and critics of the government.

Wildlife experts believe that denotifying the Shivalik Elephant Reserve will push human populations closer to wild animals, leading to an increased interspecies conflict. The former reserve is spread over 5,409 square kilometres, and the state of Uttarakhand is home to an estimated 2,026 elephants.

The Uttarakhand government’s decision to denotify the Shivalik Elephant Reserve has met some harsh criticism online. Licypriya Kangujam, one of India’s youngest environmental activists, called it a “black day for all environmentalists” after the news of the decision broke.

India’s forests are home to a stunning array of biodiversity. However, too often, the country’s natural wealth is overlooked in favour of development and infrastructure projects that harm the ecosystem. Neglecting the importance of preserving India’s wild spaces would prove to be counterproductive in the long run. The Shivalik Elephant Reserve being denotified is just the latest step down a path from which there may be no return.

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