Wildlife Corridors and India’s National Wildlife Action Plan:

Brief History & Evolution


Vidushi Pant

In the pursuit of conserving its diverse and endangered wildlife, India has been formulating long-term National Wildlife Action Plans (NWAPs) since 1983. These have emerged as critical advisory plans to guide different departments and committees in strengthening their efforts to protect India’s wildlife. In this article, we briefly discuss the evolution of the focus of the first two NWAPs to include wildlife corridors.

A Brief History of the National Wildlife Action Plan

The enactment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act in 1972—for the first time—provided a legal framework for conservation in India, which was followed by the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. However, it was soon realized that a long-term strategy and action programme was warranted for effective protection, conservation, and management of wildlife across the country. Inspired by the World Conservation Strategy and the Bali Action Plan of IUCN, the Indian Board of Wildlife (the apex advisory body for providing guidance to both the Central and State Governments on wildlife conservation matters, which was later replaced by National Board of Wildlife) launched the first National Wildlife Action Plan (NWAP) in 1983. It has since undergone two revisions to keep up with the changing landscape of wildlife conservation in India. Though not a legally enforceable document, it acts as a guideline for policymakers, advocating for specific projects and actions for effective wildlife conservation in the country.

Evolution of the National Wildlife Action Plan: The First Two Iterations

The first NWAP was effective from 1983 to 2002 and recommended a number of measures to strengthen the network of protected areas and enhance their management effectiveness. In the decades since the first plan came into effect, the number of protected areas increased substantially, from 257 in 1983 to 998 in 2023. The plan also focused on rehabilitation and captive breeding programmes of endangered and threatened species and highlighted—for the first time—the importance of collaboration between voluntary bodies and non-government organizations. This plan, however, did not focus on landscape-level conservation measures, which is understandable as the concept of landscape connectivity gained popularity in the early 1990s, almost a decade after the first plan was formulated. Nonetheless, this concept was reflected in the second iteration of NWAP, which was adopted in 2002.

The second NWAP (2002–2016) identified that national action plans cannot be successful in isolation, and there is a need to look beyond national parks and wildlife sanctuaries for efficient wildlife conservation. Acknowledging the fact that areas outside the protected area network often form vital ecological corridor links, the plan highlighted that corridors must be identified and protected to prevent further isolation of habitats to ensure long-term sustenance of biodiversity. It explicitly stated that new roads must be constructed in a manner that they by-pass all national parks and sanctuaries and avoid wildlife corridors or employ mitigative measures (such as restricting night traffic), if required. Each state/UT was recommended to identify and prioritize degraded habitats and corridors outside protected areas. These areas could be declared as ecologically fragile under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, thereby prohibiting or regulating certain activities in corridor areas. The plan also suggested that essential land and water use policies should be formulated for protecting the ecologically fragile habitats. Notably, this plan introduced two new legal categories of protected areas, namely  Conservation Reserves and Community Reserves. Over the years, several conservation reserves have been notified in areas overlapping with wildlife corridors.

Panoramic view of Amboli Ghat, Maharashtra. Dodamarg-Amboli Conservation Reserve was notified in 2021 and lies within the Sahyadri-Konkan Corridor, which connects Sahyadri Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra with protected areas of Goa and Karnataka. Image by Yash Hegde (Wikimedia Commons)

During the period when the second NWAP was in effect, several wildlife corridors were identified by different reports. National Tiger Conservation Authority and Wildlife Institute of India identified 32 major tiger corridors, whereas Wildlife Trust of India identified 101 elephant corridors across the country. In addition to these, researchers identified several other corridors, such as Mt Abu–Jessore Corridor in Gujarat and Bandhavgarh–Nauradehi Corridor in Madhya Pradesh. 

The third NWAP, adopted in 2017, emphasized a landscape-level approach to conservation, focusing on wildlife corridors and integrated habitat management. The plan outlines guidelines for corridor management, habitat restoration, and community involvement. It also advocates for the growth of tourism and eco-development projects beyond protected areas.

To delve deeper into how wildlife corridors are integrated into the latest NWAP, check our second article in this series. Find the article here.