India: Physics experiment against elephants

New Internationalist
Article Published Aug. 4, 2008
Tarsh Thekaekara

The largest single population of Asian elephants in the world is found in the 5500sq km Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in Southwest India. where the three Indian states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka meet. During the summer, as food and water becomes scarce, elephants need to migrate from the drier forests of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to the evergreen forests of Kerala. In order to migrate the elephants must pass through a corridor at Singara, inside the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in Tamil Nadu.

This is exactly where the Indian authorities plan the construction of a huge physics experiment – the India Based Neutrino Observatory. The proposal would tunnel more than two kilometers under the ground and build a 100,000 ton iron detector underground in the middle of this Reserve. Drilling and construction would require over 150,000 truckloads of material to pass through 35 kilometers of forest – and two tiger reserves.

As well as being home to the largest single population of Asian elephants in the world the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve is one of the most important tiger habitats in the country. 676 species of plants, 173 species of vertebrates, 12 species of amphibians, 38 species of fish, 46 species of reptile, 87 species of birds and 28 species of mammals (including tiger, leopard, gaur, wild dog, bear, deer and elephant) live around the proposed site for the project. The conservation of this critical elephant habitat would not only serve to protect the largest Asian elephant population, but would also benefit the entire ecosystem, including other rare species.

Ajay Desai, the co-chair of IUCN‘s Asian Elephant Specialist Group was quoted in a New Internationalist article as saying:

‘The project will undoubtedly affect the Asian Elephant and almost every other species in the area, but the bigger problem with a project like this is the massive infrastructure development that is going to happen in this fragile area. ‘Their offer to offset the damage they are going to cause by putting a small percentage of the budget into conservation is ridiculous. Its like suggesting we kill off a few tigers and elephants, sell all their body parts and use the money for conservation.’

 Original Article