‘The forest is dry, and the next 15-20 days will be critical’

The threat of forest fires looms large in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, which is mainly composed of deciduous trees and bone-dry thanks to the scorching heat.

Although there was scattered rain in parts of Maddur, Kundagere and Bandipur range last week, it was localised; the bulk of the forest remains vulnerable.

H.C. Kantharaj, Director, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, told The Hindu that the forest was dry and the next 15 to 20 days would be critical. There have been no major fires in the national park so far, but the guards have stepped up vigil.

“We have also recruited 350 forest watchers on a temporary basis in addition to our regular staff. Their job is to keep an eye out for fires and alert the staff. They have been hired till April 15, after which the threat of forest fire will dissipate owing to the pre-monsoon showers that tend to lash the region,” said Mr. Kantharaj.

There are nearly 286 water bodies in the forests, and adequate storage in most of them, although some may go dry in the next couple of weeks. There are no plans at present to artificially replenish these watering-holes (a measure that has been flayed by wildlife NGOs, as it amounts to “intervention in nature’s way of weeding out the weak and dying animals”) in view of the availability of water for another fortnight.

The Forest Department’s efforts to avert forest fires have been supplemented by the Wildlife Conservation Foundation. D. Rajkumar, foundation director, said pamphlets highlighting the negative impacts of forest fires were distributed to villages in close proximity to forest boundaries. “A majority of the people cannot read, and hence street plays were conducted in villages. They helped in communicating the message to the local community,” he added.

“Street plays were conducted at Alathhur, Garbi, Mangala and Goplapura, near Himavad Gopalaswamy Betta, and Berambadi, which is close to it: all areas that are highly fire-prone. Bandipur has 13 forest ranges of which 50 per cent are prone to forest fires,” said Mr. Rajkumar.

Most animals are migrating towards moist forests near Wayanad, he added. Forest fires are an annual phenomenon at Bandipur, but are man-made and result in the destruction of biomass and ground vegetation, thus inhibiting the amount of food available to herbivores. If unchecked, forest fires could alter prey density and directly affect Bandipur’s carnivorous population.

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