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Working for man and beast

Lily Cole is impressed by Vivek Menon’s inventive ecological solutions

September/October 2015

Lily Cole, 27, is a British model, actress and campaigner for ethical fashion; in 2013 she launched the social-business website impossible.com. Vivek Menon, 47, is a conservation biologist, author and founder of the Wildlife Trust of India

Many Indians revere the elephant – the Hindu god Ganesh has an elephant’s head, after all, so they really don’t want to kill these animals. But there is a pressure that comes with a population of more than a billion people, elephants that destroy crops and houses, and wild habitat that’s increasingly broken into isolated pieces. To maintain genetically healthy and diverse elephant populations, these wild places need to be joined up. Vivek has had an ingenious and practical solution: wildlife corridors.

It’s simple. You create corridors of land that connect national parks with other protected areas, safeguarding elephants’ traditional migration routes. Elephant corridors are good for almost any other wildlife – if an elephant can use a corridor, so can tigers, bats, monkeys and everything else. Vivek and his team at Wildlife Trust of India have identified more than 80 potential wildlife corridors. The trouble is that humans are settled in many of them, and that’s created problems both for them and the wild animals. I met one man who had to stay awake every night watching for elephants and boar, just so his family could sleep safely. WTI and charities such as World Land Trust are funding voluntary resettlements for many of these villages, giving the land to the people who move.

Vivek is inclusive, as well as innovative – he’s working closely with local communities to improve their lives while addressing a major conservation issue. It had been assumed that the problems between people and elephants were unavoidable. But with the use of corridors under Vivek’s guidance, it’s become clear that it’s comparatively easy to mitigate the conflict between animals and humans. It’s a breakthrough. 

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