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India scraps plan to build physics lab in tiger reserve

Indian officials have decided against a plan to built a Neutrino Observatory, an underground experimental physics laboratory, in Mudumulai Tiger Reserve, an area conservationists say serves as an important corridor for elephants and other wildlife.

A coalition of environmentalists and conservation biologists have worked to block the project at the site, arguing that its construction in the reserve would unnecessarily put endangered species at risk. The coalition noted the availability of other locations suited for the project.

Project managers will now investigate a site at Suruliyar, 500 kilometers south of Bangalore.

“I have also considered all points objectively and have come to the conclusion that the Singara site would not be advisable and that the alternate location… at Suruliyar should be seriously considered by the Department of Atomic Energy,” wrote Jairam Ramesh, Indian Minister of Environment and Forests, in a letter to the Atomic Energy Commission. “We will try to facilitate necessary approvals from our end for the alternate location. I am told that the alternate location does not present the type of problems that Singara poses and, therefore, clearances from an environmental and forestry angle should be pose a serious problem.”

Conservation biologists welcomed the decision.

“This is a significant conservation victory that should be celebrated,” said William Laurance, a researcher at James Cook University in Australia who supported a resolution by the Association for Tropical Biology and Conservation against siting the Neutrino Observatory in Mudumulai.

“This is a rare victory for conservation,” added Priya Davidar of Pondicherry University in Pondicherry, India.

Mudumulai serves as a wildlife corridor between several other protected areas that are a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. Nilgiri contains over a fifth of the India’s vertebrates and flowering plants, 15% of its butterflies, and numerous endangered species. The area contains one of the largest contiguous forests in Asia and sustains India’s largest wild populations of Asian Elephants and Bengal Tigers.

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