Wild animals get first taste of carcasses of animals sacrificed, venture into villages

The growing popularity of places of worship inside Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks is disturbing the wildlife that is already troubled by the proliferation of resorts, encroachment of forest land and ecotourism.

Attracting thousands of people, some temples are also places for animal sacrifice. The carcasses attract carnivores, which, after their first taste of domestic animals, are encouraged to foray into nearby villages intensifying the man-animal conflict.

Contentious issue

The Forest Department is unable to end this practice owing to lack of political support and apprehensions of hurting religious sentiments.

The department also fears that the local community would set the forests ablaze during summer in revenge, and hence is silent on the issue.

Documents available with The Hindu indicate there are at least 42 places of worship — 39 temples, two mosques and a church — inside Nagarahole.

Getting too big

A majority of the temples are small, with a few devotees occasionally worshipping stone figures beneath a banyan or peepal tree. However, others like the Hosalu Maramma temple at Anechowkur in Periyapatna taluk draw a large crowd — and not necessarily of tribal people — every Tuesday and Friday. The number of people visiting the temple is increasing by the year.

P.M. Muthanna, honorary wildlife warden, told The Hindu that the Hosalu Maramma temple was once a makeshift structure but had expanded. It now has a samudaya bhavan and a dining hall, with the temple complex occupying about 4 acres of forest land.

“Most temples are like ‘arali katte', where people worship a tree and do not cause much of a problem. But at the bigger ones, marriages are held, music is blasted over loudspeakers and sacrifices take place with the leftover carcass attracting carnivores,” Mr. Muthanna says.

The Mastyamma temple at Mastigudi has a hoary tradition of worship by local village residents, while the Betrayananappa temple also attracts thousands for animal sacrifice, he adds.

No compromise

Bandipur too is affected by these developments. It has at least three temples and a dargah, which, at a conservative estimate, draw thousands of people every week.

D. Rajkumar of Wildlife Conservation Foundation says the Belada Kuppe temple in the Hediyala range in Bandipur was a small decrepit temple in 2002. But today, it has a dasoha bhavan that attracts not less than 25,000 people during auspicious occasions. A ‘diesel-set committee' ensures power supply on such occasions.

Besides, each village has a different day for the feast. “We tried convincing the people to have a common day for worship and feast but they did not agree as each village has its own tradition. So, the temple ends up attracting more than a lakh people annually,” says Mr. Rajkumar, who has written about the dangers of religious places in forests in his 2003 report on birds of Bandipur.

“The white-backed vulture, a Schedule I bird listed as highly endangered, used to breed here in the 1990s but it is no longer sighted here,” he says.

Other religious places in Bandipur that attract a large crowd are the dargah in Gundre range, Mahadeshwara temple at Dodda Bargi in Maddur range, and the famous Gopalaswami temple atop the Himavad Gopalaswamibetta.

Some of the temples are located close to highways, and animals attracted to them risk being mowed down by vehicles.

Both Bandipur and Nagarhole are prime tiger and elephant reserves. Habitat degradation through unbridled religious tourism is fraught with danger for wildlife.

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