Wildlife conservationists have taken exception to cattle grazing inside the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, despite the threat of foot and mouth disease.
Vana Jagrathi, an NGO espousing the cause of wildlife, told The Hindu that a small herd of cattle was let loose to graze around the Beladakuppe Mahadeshwara temple, which is situated around 8 km inside the forest, in the core area of the tiger reserve in the Hediyala range.
Guruprasad of Vana Jagrathi said the cattle were brought to clear the area around the temple premises for the ensuing annual fair to be held during the Karthika season.
He expressed fear that the cattle might end up spreading FMD to the wild herbivores in and around Bandipur.
“The area around Mahadeshwara temple consists of grasslands and is a major grazing area for wild herbivores like chital, gaur and sambar, the main prey for the big cats. Cattle grazing in areas that are main grazing grounds for wild herbivores is one of the major causes for spread of foot and mouth disease in the wild. Cattle carrying the virus and entering the reserve may even wipe out large wild herbivore populations in Bandipur and surrounding forests. Karnataka has faced the brunt of this virus in the past too, at the Bhadra Tiger Reserve,” said Mr. Guruprasad.
Vana Jagrathi alleged that there was pressure on the Forest Department to permit entry and grazing of cattle inside Bandipur Tiger Reserve. “Succumbing [to pressure] could spell doom for the wild herbivore population, rendering protection measures fruitless. It is very crucial that the Forest Department strictly implement the ban on entry and grazing of livestock inside Bandipur, in the wider interest of preventing the spreading of the virus and protecting its wild herbivore population,” the NGO said.
However, H.C. Kantharaj, director, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, denied the allegations of pressure on the Forest Department to let in the cattle. On the contrary steps had been taken to thwart any entry of cattle inside the forests, he said. There are around 2 lakh head of cattle in the region, and 3 lakh people spread over 146 villages in the area. The Forest Department, with its limited resources, is doing everything it can to control the situation.
On the annual fair at the temple, Mr.Kantharaj said a meeting was scheduled with the temple committee members on Saturday to scale down the celebrations. “They have agreed to it but the final results will be known only tomorrow. A list of dos and don’ts have already been circulated and would be strictly implemented,” he added.