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Uttarakhand’s unique bridge to help reptiles cross busy jungle road

The 90-ft ecobridge on Kaladhungi-Nainital highway. (Express Photo)

The Uttarakhand Forest Department has built a first-of-its-kind ecobridge across a busy highway in Ramnagar forest division of Nainital district so that reptiles trying to cross over are not crushed under traffic.

The 90-foot-long structure of bamboo, jute, and grasses was built across the two-lane Kaladhungi-Nainital highway by local contractors over a period of 10 days at a cost of Rs 2 lakh.

The highway is the main route to Nainital, and is used by a large number of vehicles especially in the tourist season. The jungle is home to monitor lizards, snakes including pythons, rodent squirrels, and monkeys, and the crushed remains of reptiles are frequently found on the highway.

The 5-foot-wide, 40-foot-high bridge can take the weight of three adult humans, and forest officials said they hoped it would be used by even leopards.

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The bridge, which will be put in sight of four camera traps, will be studied as a model by the Forest Department, Ramnagar Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) Chandra Shekhar Joshi said.

The bridge has been strung at a point where the road arcs in a wide ‘U’, and vehicles going downhill often travel at high speed. It is expected that by reducing the need for sudden braking in front of a crossing animal, the road will become safer for human beings too.

“This is a dense forest, and elephants, leopards, deer, and blue bulls move in this area. Drivers can see them from some distance and slow down or stop, but they rarely do so for snakes, lizards, monitors, or squirrels,” a Forest official said.

To attract reptiles and other small animals, creepers will be grown over the bridge, which will be layered with grass and leaves, officials said.

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“We are experimenting. We want to create suitable conditions for reptiles and other such animals so that they can use it. We want to create a micro-environment for them on the bridge,” DFO Joshi said.

Reptiles and other small animals are an important part of the forest food chain and ecosystem, Joshi said. He said boards were being put up to create awareness of the need to protect reptiles. Forest staff would patrol the area to ensure tourists do not try to use the bridge for selfies, he added.

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