By Priya Ranganathan | Illustration by Kshiti Mishra

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You are standing at the edge of a busy road, unsure of where to look as the blazing red and white lights flare and flicker around you. Vroooooom! A lorry roars past, wheels spitting dust and you snap back your head in alarm. A slight turn to the left yields an even scarier sight, a pair of enormous white lights flashing, a high-pitched siren blaring as the beast bears down on you. Where do you go? Forward, into the whirlpool of lights, screeching tires, and the acrid smell of rubber against tar? Or backward, into safety? Your family stands on the other side of this vast crossing, equally lost and unsure. 

There is no place safe enough to cross. 

Wild animals around the world are finding it harder and harder to walk safely from forest to forest because of roads, railway lines, and fences and walls that we humans have put in their path. Once upon a time, many years ago, human villages were very small and barely took up any space at all. People hunted, fished, and farmed in small patches of land and took care to not disturb nature. But as the years passed and the number of people on our Earth increased, people needed wood to build houses and to start fires. That was when the vast forests of the Earth were first chopped by man to build homes that turned into villages, that turned into towns, that became the first cities of our modern world. 

But what does this growth of cities mean for forests, grasslands, and other places? And how does this affect the wild animals and birds that call these places home? 

As cities grow, forests are chopped, wetlands are drained, and rivers are forced to change their paths as concrete and tar take over the landscape. Roads and railways cut across forests and rivers, making ugly cuts across what was once beautiful, connected wilderness. But apart from painting ugly black streaks across a green landscape, roads and railway lines can spell death for wild animals trying to move from one piece of forest to another. 

Imagine being a deer and standing at the side of a forest road, unsure of when to cross and what to expect. Imagine the horror of seeing a huge, blaring creature with bright burning eyes and a bellowing voice bearing down on you. That is what a truck must look like to an animal, and unfortunately, the animal cannot hope to survive a collision with a truck. Even countless elephants die each year in India because of accidents on roads and railways. It is a terrible thing to see an elephant lying by the railway tracks, the light dimmed in its eyes, its trunk flopped lifelessly, those powerful legs forever stilled by a moving mass of metal. 

In order to reduce the chances of an animal or bird losing its life to roads and railways, scientists and people working to save wildlife have come up with the idea of wildlife corridors. These corridors are thin, long strips of forest that connect two forests that have been separated by a road or railway line. How does this help, you may ask? Well, animals use these corridors and avoid crossing the roads, thus staying safe from fast-moving cars, trucks, and buses. Some wildlife corridors are specially designed to go over roads, just like bridges! These “wildlife bridges” are grassy and act like natural ground, and animals prefer to use these instead of waiting by the side of a busy road, trying to cross to the other side. 

Photograph by Dincy Mariyam

Of course, the best way of conserving wild animals is by saving their homes – the forests, rivers, wetlands, lakes, and grasslands that give them everything they need to survive. But cities keep growing as more people flock to them looking for jobs, better schools for their children, and the comforts that can be found in urban life. What, then, is the way for us to be better neighbours to animals? By creating paths for them to travel undisturbed in their habitats. 

Wildlife corridors are not meant to be a home for animals. They connect homes, just like roads connect different places for us. Just as we cannot drive our cars through the forest unless there is a road, we have to be responsible and think of our neighbouring wildlife and plan ways for them to travel safely and stay far away from roads. Would you want to drive in a forest and see a dead leopard or deer lying by the side of the road? What a waste of a beautiful life, and what a blow for those species that are trying to survive in the Age of Man. 

We humans have been named Homo sapiens, which means ‘wise man.’ It would be a wise move for us to create more ways for animals to cross from forest to forest, from lake to lake, from grassland to grassland, without having to come in contact with us and face death every time they try to do so. Animals prefer to be left alone, far away from us. While wildlife and humans are now living closer than ever before, we can still make sure to interact as less as possible and allow animals to live their lives stress-free. 

Wildlife corridors are the first step towards helping wildlife stay safe in our rapidly-changing industrial world.

About the Author:

Priya Ranganathan is a wetland ecologist and geologist by training who works in the wild Western Ghats. When she isn’t out wading through swamp forests, she can be found scribbling away in her notebook or practicing Bharatanatyam. Check out her website ‘On Life and Wildlife.’

About the Artist:

Kshiti Mishra is pursuing a PhD in physics in the Netherlands and occasionally likes to dabble in different kinds of art.