India’s phenomenal economic growth over the last decade has been accompanied by a much-needed expansion and improvement in transport and other infrastructure networks. While there are legally mandated assessments of the potential ecological impacts of such infrastructure projects prior to implementation, rarely are there post-implementation assessments of their real ecological impacts. In this communication, we present results of a preliminary study examining the impact of vehicular traffic on the usage of road edges by large mammals along a highway passing through Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, southern India. We estimated large mammal encounter rates at remotely triggered camera traps on two consecutive sections of the same highway – one closed to vehicular traffic and the other open to vehicles only during daytime. We observed lower encounter rates of chital, gaur and elephants at camera traps in the highway segment with higher vehicular traffic density, suggesting that these species avoided busy highways. Based on our findings, we emphasize the importance of continued ecological impact assessments of development projects to identify and mitigate unforeseen impacts. Further, an approach to development planning that integrates conservation concerns, especially where development projects coincide with ecologically critical areas, is urgently needed in India.
Current Science 102(7): 1047-1051