India-Pakistan border fence affecting wildlife

By Binoo Joshi, IANS,

Jammu : The barbed wire fence between India and Pakistan and the landmine fields laid to prevent infiltration of militants has had a tragic fallout – on wildlife.

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The wire fencing has affected the movement of wild animals and divided their habitat. Worse, the landmines along the international border have killed and maimed many of them.

There is about 200 km of international border and 720 km of Line of Control (LOC) between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. The fencing is about 500 metres to two kilometres inside India, depending on the geographic condition of the terrain.

The three-tier fence is about 3.5 metres high. Landmines are laid along it as it runs from flat plains through mountainous forests to high passes. The Indian Army claims that infiltration from across the border has become negligible as the barbed wire fence and landmine fields act as a deterrent.

But the wildlife department says it has left an “adverse affect” on wildlife in these areas. Nasier Ahmad Kitchloo, wildlife Warden in Jammu, told IANS: “The fence has blocked the corridor of animals in the areas and has restricted their free to and fro movement.”

Some of the animals affected are monkeys, including rare species of the Rhesus monkey and the Langur, the Black Bear, leopards, deer, musk deer, pigs, and many species of reptiles.

“Many ground nesting birds have also come under the impact,” he said.

The barbed wire fence has also “fragmented the habitat of the wildlife here”, he said. The animals that had gone over to Pakistan while the fence was being erected would now have to remain there forever, and conversely.

The major problem occurs when animals stray into the landmine fields. “Many of them are either killed or maimed. They lose their limbs in the blasts caused when they step on the anti-personnel mines.”

The wildlife department does not have the number of animals killed or maimed, “but as per the cases reported it is fairly large”.

“Once a deer lost a hind leg when it strayed into a landmine field. With the help of the army we got an artificial leg fitted and left the deer in the forest,” recounted Kitchloo.

Asked if the habitat changes have brought any behavioural change in the animals, Kitchloo said: “The behaviour changes take some time to study, but the increasing frequency of animals damaging crops and attacking human beings can be attributed to this as well.”

The black bear goes into six months’ hibernation from November, “but these days we have sighted it in January and February, which means that they feel lost in their new habitat on not finding their places of hibernation”.

Lt. Col. S.D. Goswami, army spokesperson in Jammu, said there were cases of wild animals straying into landmine fields.

“We try to turn them away, whenever we spot them,” he said.

The landmine fields were fenced and danger signs were marked on them. “When an animal is struck by a landmine explosion, the other animals get cautious and try to remain away. But still the incidents keep happening.”

(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at [email protected] )