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Hedgehog population threatened by expansion of wind turbines in Tamil Nadu

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Hedgehogs, called mull eli in Tamil, are one of the 17 species of hedgehogs that exist in the world. There isn’t much information on the species, except for what was mentioned in the British Gazette over a century ago. “Currently in India there are three species of hedgehogs, and their behavior, movement or ecology has not been studied,” says Brawin Kumar, scientist at Indian Institutes of Science, Education and Research (IISER) . Brawin has worked on the species in India, trying to collect data and the distribution of this species.

This unique evolutionary animal has faced a series of threats such as destruction of its habitat, traffic accidents, among others. However, in recent years the rise of windmills in Tamilnadu has posed an additional threat to the hedgehog habitat.

Windmills in southern Erode, Tiruppur, Kangeyam and many other areas are on the increase.

Brawin Kumar

Hedgehogs sleep with their stomachs in the sun, in an open space where people do not walk. The hedgehog’s habitat is where the windmills are located. In addition, where there is an increase in traffic, they die because they are slow animals and do not run.

“About 150 to 200 hedgehogs are killed in a month at a place called Thisayinvilai in Tirunelveli district in Tamilnadu,” Brawin explains.

Regarding the distribution of hedgehogs, the rapid development of wind turbines could be a major threat. “The semi-arid grasslands where the windmills are installed, the habitat is changed,” Brawin adds.

In southern Tamil Nadu, the hedgehog distribution areas are in the windmill areas. As India moves towards alternative energy, there is less space left to establish them, and these areas are also found in the hedgehog areas.

Hedgehog
Brawin Kumar

“The creation of new roads for the preparation of the wind turbine, the execution, the establishment of the plant and other processes change its original landscape. Land use change is one of the main reasons for the decline in populations of mammal species, ”Brawin explains.

Along with a host of other issues such as poaching, trade, hunting, pet trade, medicine, this issue needs to be addressed for hedgehog conservation as well.

Cooperative conservation action

In Erode, Tiruppur, surveys carried out by the team reported sightings of hedgehogs in cattle pastures, backyards of houses, buttresses of mounds and in windmill spaces. “In addition, the species is locally extirpated in many places in Tamil Nadu,” Brawin explains.

At present, there are no suitable studies on the impact of wind turbines on small mammals. However, there is a lot to do.

“A proper environmental impact assessment is necessary before large-scale implementation of wind turbines,” Brawin explains.

In addition, strategies must be developed. The involvement of local communities is also essential for the conservation of the species and the habitat. “Windmill authorities could develop a large-scale socio-economic study focused on the protection and conservation of local wildlife. This will mitigate threats to the species and also examine sustainable green energy, ”Brawin said.

Hedgehog
Brawin Kumar

In European countries, hedgehog conservation societies, protection working groups have a rapid assessment of the impact of wind turbines on local wildlife. This could very well be done in India, once the surveys are done and more information is gathered on the ground.

Brawin says, “Wind turbine companies can include conserving hedgehogs with green energy to establish and improve their environmental credentials. They can also establish a large area of ​​fertile forest for conservation purposes and act as a moderator or facilitator to trigger conservation of local species.

For example, companies could become directly involved in creating a safe zone for hedgehogs, marking environmentally sensitive areas by understanding the species and thereby mitigating threats.

This could be an example that other stakeholders can adopt. In addition, various platforms should be used to improve knowledge about the species. “Only scientific institutions cannot do conservation on their own. Wind energy companies could also play a role in conservation as a stakeholder.

Hedgehog
Brawin Kumar

Awareness and knowledge of local employees needs to be enhanced. A long-term vision should be prepared with national and state wind turbine authorities supporting activities to fund and promote field and laboratory research related to the hedgehog. They could also set up appropriate study centers in Tamil Nadu, ”Brawin explains.

“With the help of local support and wind turbine companies, we were able to establish evidence-based rural hedgehog conservation areas. And it could be done anywhere else, ”he adds.

Prior to the launch of the wind turbine project, a field assessment of local biodiversity will be useful. Based on this, one can develop a policy to support the existence of the species in this area and reserve areas in this geography for conservation purposes.

“The vehicle speed limit should be limited to 15-20 km in windmill areas to prevent the death of hedgehogs on the road. There is now a need to develop guidelines to mitigate threats to hedgehogs, ”adds Brawin.

The author is a multi-award-winning senior environmental journalist based in Coimbatore.


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