Conservationists are looking increasingly at lands outside protected areas to serve as secondary habitat or dispersal conduits for threatened species. In India, where protected areas are generally small, private landholdings can enhance the viability of wildlife populations. Research carried out by the Wildlife Conservation Society, India Program (WCS India) in north-east India has suggested that for conflict-prone species such as the Asian elephant, private land does not serve as primary habitat but could facilitate connectivity. Building upon this finding, WCS India has initiated a connectivity project—predominantly in tea plantations, paddy fields and areas of human habitation—between Kaziranga National Park and the hills of Karbi Anglong, Assam. The landscape is a unique floodplain ecosystem wherein animals move seasonally between inundated floodplains of Kaziranga and the higher reaches of Karbi Anglong.
In recognition of the potential conservation value of tea plantations, WCS India and Balipara Tract and Frontier Foundation have been working with six plantations, two of which are managed by Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd, to foster their role as wildlife movement routes. Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd Foundation, keen to form a model for conservation in tea plantations through adoption of wildlife-friendly management practices, supports the collaborative project initiated by WCS India and Balipara Tract and Frontier Foundation. Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd Foundation has also tentatively set aside land in plantations between Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong for wildlife habitat and movement.
WCS India is conducting research to assess the conservation value of these lands for mammals. Initial surveys, during January–April 2015, with support from the Department of Science and Technology (Government of India), WCS New York and the Amalgamated Plantations Private Ltd Foundation, indicate that multiple species, including barking deer, leopards and elephants, use tea plantations. Meetings have been held with managers of all six plantations, and further investigations are underway to identify management practices that could sustain or enhance wildlife movement through tea plantations. Through these efforts, organizations involved in this programme aim to integrate scientific findings into decision-making in a manner that serves both wildlife conservation and human livelihood needs.