Uranium mining within a tiger reserve

Nature reserves in India are rather different to what was set up in Africa. In Africa there are six nature reserves or national parks which have enough space to have a population of at least 500 Lions. If humans were to disappear from Africa tomorrow and reappear in 500 years these populations are likely to be big enough that genetic disabilities will have impacted this population.

In general India is not like this. Many of their reserves only cover a couple of hundred square miles or less, particularly the core area which is the main protection for wild species. These need a certain amount of human intervention as with only 15 to 20 tigers it is necessary to transport wild tigers between reserves relatively regularly to keep a healthy genetic population.

The Amrabad tiger reserve is one of the few large reserves covering more than 2800 square kilometres (just over 1000 square miles).

Protecting a wide range of species from tigers to sloth bears, panthers, pangolins, samba, deer and wild dogs, it is a highly important reserve for the protection of India’s wide range of mammal species. It is also home to one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes left in India: the Chenchu, who have lived and hunted within the reserve many generations.

Unfortunately balanced against this pressure to protect their natural resources is the need to cut their carbon emissions. The Indian government is keen to start nuclear power plants, but this requires uranium mining and this rare element is only found in a few places in the country, one of which is deep in the heart of the Amrabad tiger reserve. While the potential mine is only as an exploratory level they have already made clear the damage it will do so the park ordering the clearance of an area for a test mine.

This demonstrates the unfortunate fact that although mining goes on underground and therefore in theory does not require the removal of the forests above, bar a few entrance points and roads, and therefore in theory does not require the removal of the entire forest, it almost never works this way. Instead first the forest is cleared and then the mine is dug.

Of the current 22 uranium nuclear power plants 14 rely on uranium from abroad, and with a desire to increase the number to 32 by 2030. A further concern is the fact that all comments from locals seem to have been against the proposal and yet the distant calls for uranium mining won out.

This is only the latest attempt to destroy this important reserve with certain local campaigners have been fighting off similar projects for decades. Between bringing in the equipment and the roads that will be created to supply equipment and remove mined minerals, and the likely water contamination caused by the mining which is almost completely impossible to avoid, even if no pickup in poaching or wood collection this would likely destroy the majority of the reserves wild populations. The concern is that if the largest tiger reserve in India is not safe from this sort of destruction, none of them are. Estimates are that reserves of this size could only support 30 to 40 tigers, assuming its carrying capacity and currently it is only thought to support 13 so it is not a healthy reserve that can cope with changes without losing what is left.

Some progress has been made in migration corridors between reserves but this is delicate and in its early stages and so will be easy to destroy by relatively low levels of human activity. As India’s largest tiger reserve it would suggest that tiger conservation is not a high priority.

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