Wildlife corridors do exactly what they imply, they provide safe passage for animals. Devices like these became increasingly important as pristine wilderness succumbed to development or urbanization. Without them animal populations became isolated even if protected within parks. This impacted genetic diversity and the overall health of local species. Further problems occurred when animals tried to travel from one safe space to another. They trampled over farmers’ fields or suburban backyards. They died crossing busy roadways. The National Wildlife Federation estimated, for example, "on U.S. highways, a vehicle hits an animal at least every 26 seconds."
A wildlife corridor can correct those issues. Solutions exists at various levels, from vast regional or even transnational fixes, all the way down to the hyper-local. Twelve Mile Circle decided to focus on a few examples from around the globe.
Indian elephants represented the largest population of three distinct subspecies of Asian elephants. However the population dropped drastically during the 20th Century. The last century began with about a hundred thousands animals. Yet it ended with maybe a quarter of that. Habitat loss, human pressures and population fragmentation further limited Indian elephants to perhaps 15% of their historical range. This made corridors vital to their survival.
If you look at a map depicting the distribution of the elephant today, you will see a shattered kingdom, a vastly reduced range broken into fragments, a few drops of colour splashed accidentally on a worn out South Asian fabric. This is the tragedy facing the Asian elephant today – existence in isolation.
The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI)’s National Elephant Corridor Project identified natural migration paths. The Siju-Rewak Corridor in the Garo Hills offered one case study. It fell within the state of Meghalaya, in the far northeastern corner of India where it bordered Bangladesh. Here the Someshwari (or Simsang) River cut through the Garo Hills, creating a rocky ravine too steep for elephants to cross except in four places. The Trust worked with local communities to set-aside necessary land at choke points so elephants could pass undisturbed. This connected a string of protected properties; Balpharkam National Park, Siju Wildlife Sanctuary, Rewak Reserve Forest and Nokrek National Park (map).
A similar situation existed in eastern Africa. Kenya dealt with multiple dimensions to the problem. Wildlife on the plains required lots of room to roam. Tourism brought a huge economic benefit that depended on healthy, sustainable animals. Nobody would come for a safari experience if there weren’t any marquis species like giraffes, lions, zebras and elephants. Yet the people who lived there also needed land for their survival. Animals got pushed onto parks. The need for corridors became imperative.
As an example, the African Wildlife Federation created the Amboseli-Chyulu Wildlife Corridor. It connected Amboseli National Park, Chyulu Hills and Tsavo West National Park (map). The Federation also used monetary incentives. Local landowners earned payments "for every acre set aside for conservation and safeguarded against poaching, subdivision, and other activities that could degrade habitat."
The Brazilian Atlantic Forest is one of the most biodiverse forests in the world. 70% of Brazil’s population now lives in the area that was once the Atlantic Forest. Only 7% of the forest remains and in Pontal do Paranapanema that number is down to 3%.
Efforts to create wildlife corridors sprang up in various parts of the nation. In support, non-profit groups such as the World Land Trust purchased acreage that they then donated for conservation purposes. Other groups such as WeForest investigated where animals migrated using GPS collars, then focus on creating corridors along those natural routes. One corridor connected Morro do Diabo State Park (map) and the Iguaçu National Park.
Not everything needed to take place on such a gigantic scale. Effective local solutions also existed in many places, for example, in the city of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. There on its southern edge sat Larch Sanctuary and the Whitemud Nature Reserve.
Nestled in the middle of Edmonton lies Larch Sanctuary, a section of the Whitemud creek ravine just upstream of its confluence with Blackmud creek. This 58 acre reserve is on the south side of 23rd Avenue, with housing developments at the top of the banks on either side, so it truly is a sanctuary. Despite being right inside a major city, Larch Sanctuary retains remarkable biodiversity.
This was the "only continuously-wooded, relatively-undeveloped stretch of land running through the City," It also contained Edmonton’s only ox bow lake, a topic of particular interest to 12MC. However animals needed a way to get to and from this protected space. They risked being hit on a busy divided highway, Anthony Henday Drive. Thus, the solution centered on constructing a specially constructed underpass (satellite view). Then animals could cross freely.
Rivers can make great boundaries when they cooperate. Frequently they do not. These creatures of nature flow where they want to flow. Sometimes they erode deep furrows through solid rock, changing course only after eons pass. Other times they cross alluvial plains, shifting into multiple ephemeral streams awaiting the next flood. Problems will undoubtedly occur when people rely upon frequently-shifting rivers as boundaries. The shifts create winners and losers.
Two recent border situations came to my attention, handled in distinctly different ways by those involved.
The Red River
Reader Glenn seemed amused by the craziness of the border between Texas and its neighbors — Oklahoma and Arkansas — along the Red River, in an email he sent to 12MC a couple of months ago. The border rarely followed the river exactly, it reflected a version of the river that existed a long time ago. Many of the cutoffs on the "wrong" side of the river still retained names from a bygone day; Eagle Bend, Horseshoe Bend, Whitaker Bend and Hurricane Bend. Others seemed to represent the year of the flood that changed the underlying channel; such as 1908 Cutoff and Forty-One Cutoff.
I might have left it at that, a simple observation of a messed-up situation. However, the decision to use the Red River beginning with the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819 continues to reverberate today. This treaty between Spain and the United States addressed a host of boundary issues. A line along the Red River remained in place when México gained independence from Spain in 1821, when Texas gained independence in 1836 and when Texas joined the United States in 1846. The river had different intentions though and meandered as it pleased.
The Red River figured prominently in a U.S. Supreme Court decision, Oklahoma v. Texas, 260 U.S. 606 (1923). The Court noted that even though the river wandered, it remained within two "cut banks" broadly defined.
… we hold that the bank intended by the treaty provision is the water-washed and relatively permanent elevation or acclivity at the outer line of the river bed which separates the bed from the adjacent upland, whether valley or hill, and serves to confine the waters within the bed and to preserve the course of the river, and that the boundary intended is on and along the bank at the average or mean level attained by the waters in the periods when they reach and wash the bank without overflowing it.
The Court set the boundary between Texas and Oklahoma on the south side of the Red River. Surveyors then marked and set the boundary.
The Current Dispute
Except the river kept changing while the boundary, as determined by the Court in 1923, remained fixed. The latest dispute began within the last several years. It got much more complicated. While the line between Texas and Oklahoma began at the south bank, the Federal government held the portion from the middle of the river to the south bank in public trust for Native Americans. This formed a narrow strip, a 116 mile (190 kilometre) ribbon. Much of that strip is now on dry land. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management estimated that 90,000 acres actually belong in the public domain, and not to the people living there, farming it or grazing their cattle for the last century. Lawsuits continue to rage.
The River Meuse
Netherlands / Belgium Border Adjustment Underlying Map from OpenStreetMap
Reader Jasper sent me a heads up that Belgium shrank and the Netherlands grew on November 28, 2016. The two sides came to an amicable agreement and adjusted their border. Didier Reynders of Belgium and Bert Koenders of the Netherlands signed a treaty in Amsterdam, in the presence of their respective monarchs, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde, and King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima. The announcement came in a Press Release with coverage in local media (Google Translation of an article in Flemish).
The areas in question fell along the banks of the River Meuse, forming a portion of the boundary between the two nations. They established their original border there in 1843. However, these neighbors decided to straighten their common river to improve navigation in stages between 1962 and 1980. This left a piece of the Netherlands and two pieces of Belgium on the "wrong" side of the river between Visé and Eijsden (map). Police could not access these spots easily and they became havens for illegal activities. This included a situation where a headless body washed ashore on one of the exclaves. Territorial complexities hampered the investigation.
In an unusual twist and in a supreme act of neighborly cooperation, the two nations simply agreed to swap their stranded parcels. It seemed the most logical option, and yet, it remained exceedingly rare in other border situations worldwide. Nobody wants to be the loser. Belgium simply gave up 14 hectares (35 acres) in the deal and called it good.
With a name like Triangle, I expected some actual triangles. I pondered that possibility as I sat on Interstate 95 during heavy weekend traffic, returning from an overnight trip to Richmond. I found plenty of time to consider that notion too as I traveled through Triangle on the interminably slow route on a notoriously congested highway.
In truth, I already knew about Triangle although I never thought about its name before. It stood just beyond the gates of Marine Corps Base Quantico. The Marines built a wonderful museum bordering Triangle that I visited a couple of years ago. I guessed Triangle must have been roughly triangular. That seemed to be the case when I checked later (map). No online source confirmed it definitively, though. The source of this triangle remained a mystery.
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
That didn’t keep me from finding other triangles. A famous one sat just one state farther south at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. The triangle in question referenced three local cities anchored by three major universities: Raleigh (North Carolina State University), Durham (Duke University) and Chapel Hill (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). The state government, local governments, the universities and private interests banded together in the 1950’s to create a research-friendly area managed by a non-profit organization. Their foresight worked spectacularly.
Today, we share our home with more than 200 companies and over 50,000 people with expertise in fields such as micro-electronics, telecommunications, biotechnology, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and environmental sciences. Industries invest more than $296 million in R&D at the region’s universities each year – double the average R&D investment for innovation clusters elsewhere in the nation.
Identifying triangles only got more difficult from there.
Canada offered a recent example with Junction Triangle. It didn’t have much of a name nor much of a presence during most of its history, an isolated parcel on the western side of Toronto. Industry clustered there, and then so did immigrants that worked in the factories through much of the 20th Century. They came from places like Italy and Poland, and later from Portugal. The Portuguese came in such great abundance that soon they dominated the area. Factories declined precipitously and so did the neighbourhood as the century came to an end. However, conditions changed once again in recent years as young professionals began to covet its inexpensive, conveniently-located housing. The neighbourhood needed a fancy new name to match its changing fortune. A contest in 2010 resulted in hundreds of suggestions. The name Junction Triangle (map) won after officials tallied the votes.
Why Junction Triangle? Railroads hemmed the neighbourhood in on three well-defined sides. They formed a fairly decent approximation of a triangle.
Teasing out the triangle in Triangle, Zimbabwe took a great deal more effort (map). Nothing of roughly triangular shape could be discerned anywhere on the nearby landscape. The town existed solely to service a collocated sugar refinery operated by an agricultural conglomerate, Tongaat Hulett Sugar. It processed up to sixty thousand tonnes of white sugar per year along with related products such as molasses and fuel-grade alcohol. Sugar cane was grown there since the 1930’s on a large property called the Triangle Plantation. Logically, the name of the town derived from the name of the plantation.
They named the property Triangle after the registered cattle brand which Mac purchased from a fellow farmer named Van Niekerk, as the poor chap was going out of business and had a very simple brand which almost defied alteration in a period when rustling and brand-changing was not uncommon. For a few pounds Mac purchased both the registered brand itself, in the shape of a simple triangle, and the branding irons to go with it.
MacDougall followed a number of agricultural pursuits including ranching before striking success with sugar. He used the name of the brand that he purchased for his property and retained the name as his enterprise grew.