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Bridges, underpasses come to the rescue of Indian wildlife

A tiger uses the National Highway-44 underpass (Picture courtesy WII Dehradun)

  • More than 32,000 animals—including cattle, lions, Asian elephants and leopards, have died on railway tracks in the past three years, says Indian Railways.
  • Between 2016 and 2019, 60 elephants, 8 tigers and one lion were killed in train accidents alone.
  • Eighty-three leopard deaths in train and road accidents were recorded in 2019—the highest in a decade, says the Delhi-based Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). Of these, 73 leopards were killed in road accidents while 10 were run over by trains. 

Wild animals use the NH44 underpass (Photo courtesy WII Dehradun)


Roaring traffic doesn’t stop big mammals like moose and bears from crossing highways passing through forests nor does it keep myriad smaller creatures from being squished by car tires.  The rapid expansion of roads and highways through Forest Areas or Protected Areas, is one of the biggest threats to Indian wildlife today. 

Even leopards, elephants and tigers, having the highest level of protection under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, are not spared man-made infrastructure cutting them off from their sources of food and creating hurdles in their natural migration paths.

Wildlife experts say India’s rich wildlife biodiversity has been severely affected with approvals of road and rail projects without pass-ways for animals. They warn that if the central government does not take up urgent measures, wildlife will continue to be decimated on roads and railway tracks.

The government has finally come up with an answer—the animal bridge

Bridges, overpasses and underpasses are being built for animals to walk over, instead of having to cross fast-moving highways and dangerous railway tracks. “Building crossing structures of appropriate sizes and near potential animal crossing zones on existing roads passing through forests would be beneficial for the movement of wildlife between habitat patches, and would drastically reduce mortality of wildlife on these roads. As these roads currently do not have any provisions for allowing safe movement of wildlife, construction of under or overpasses would create inviolate spaces where animals can move without fear of collision with vehicles,” says Habib Bilal senior scientist at Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun.

India’s first dedicated corridor for wild animals, a cave-like underpass connects two famous wildlife parks Kanha and Pench in Madhya Pradesh and could be vital for the long-term viability of tiger populations in central India. Experts at WII dubbed these developments as “exciting” because wild animals were finally using the underpasses created for them to cross roads safely. With five animal underpasses and four minor bridges on the 6.6-km road within the forests, it’s a great success story protecting wild animals to cross roads at no risk to their lives.

Bilal Habib says that in the nine months of monitoring, more than 5,000 animals were seen to be crossing the road through these underpasses. “Tigers, leopards, wild dogs, sloth bears and jackals, the major carnivore species in the landscape, were found using the structures with varying frequencies. Wild dogs were found to use the structures the most, followed by tigers. A total of 89 tiger crossings were recorded from six of the nine structures, by 11 individual tigers,” he said.

Proposed underpasses and Bridges to connect wildlife corridors across India

  • The National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) is also making one of the largest wildlife underpasses—1.4 km long along the Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra border.
  • Other proposals include building on the National Highway-74 through Rajaji national and Corbett Tiger reserve in Uttarakhand.
  • National Highway-37 through the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape in Assam
  • State Highway-33 through the Nagarhole Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. 
  • Chennai-Bangalore National Highway, in the Hosur-Krishnagiri segment, near reserve forests for elephant crossings
  • Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in Chandrapur, Maharashtra.
  • The under-construction Delhi-Mumbai expressway will see India’s first animal overpass. The 1,300 km greenfield project which passes through Ranthambore and other wildlife reserves will have nine animal overpasses, natural-looking structures, with a combined length of over 2.5 km.

Each overpass would be built at a distance of 500 metres and these overpasses would be green, complete with trees and foliage so that the wild animals do not feel alienated. These corridors will be on the lines of "animal bridges/ecoducts" in the Netherlands for safe passage of animals and have been planned to ensure there are no disturbances to the reserves.

From Chilla-Motichur in Uttarakhand to Thirunelli-Kudrakote in Kerala, all concerned agencies have joined together to secure 101 elephant corridors across India. Apart from constructing underpasses and ramps for movement of elephants at identified locations, Indian Railways too has been working with the forest department and other agencies to save elephants and other animals from killer tracks.