The situation has become a cause for concern to the Forest Department

Unprecedented drought is keeping Forest Department officials on their toes in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) near here.

Enquiries made by The Hindu revealed that hitherto, only certain pockets would be affected during the dry months, but this year, practically the entire Reserve extending to over 321 square kilometres wears a parched look.

Migration

The situation has become a cause for concern to the Forest Department and environmentalists as the conditions could trigger an outbreak of bushfires. Migration of animals in search of water and fresh vegetation has begun.

Conservationist P.J.Vasanthan said that he was seeing the MTR in such a state for the first time.

Some of the animals he saw were conspicuously emaciated. Many from the Moyar part of the Reserve are coming to the Channel to quench their thirst which flows from Maravakandy to the Moyar Dam. Pointing out that sighting of wild animals in the area has become frequent, he regretted that unscrupulous tour operators were exploiting the situation.

In the process, they are disturbing the animals. The prevailing weather conditions have made the surroundings extremely dry and leafless.

Since the situation in the Sigur and Gudalur forests adjoining the MTR was also equally bad, the human-wild animal conflict has escalated and instances of elephants damaging houses are being frequently reported.

Stating that earlier, only about five per cent of the total area were badly affected during the dry season, the Deputy Director, MTR

A.Ameer Haja lamented that this year, even perennial water sources have dried up.

In view of the prevailing situation, a plan of action to deal with any exigency has been put in place.

Officials, including 100 fire watchers, have been instructed to be in a state of alert round the clock. Since the fringe areas along the road which cuts through the reserve are highly vulnerable to bushfires, highway patrol has been intensified.

Five vehicles have been permanently stationed in the Theppakadu, Kargudi, Masinagudy, Mudumalai and Nellakotai ranges of the Reserve to enable the officials to respond quickly to emergencies.

Water tankers have also been stationed at convenient places. In addition to the fire fighting equipment in the MTR, special tools to control fires have been procured from Kerala.

Fire lines have been extended. In February, four bushfires had broken out but all of them had been put out before they could cause much damage.

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