The withered bamboo groves after a gregarious flowering of the plants are posing a serious fire threat to the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary.
The bamboo groves are the main feeding grounds of herbivores in the Nilgiri Biosphere during summer. The seasonal migration of wild animals from the adjacent sanctuaries of Bandipur in Karnataka and Muthumalai in Tamil Nadu to Wayanad has started owing to shortage of fodder and water there. The flowering of the bamboos in those areas triggered the migration a little earlier this year.
Bamboo groves have been grown in close to 100 sq km of the 344.44-sq km Wayanad sanctuary, and it has completely withered after the flowering since 2006, sources say. Nearly 60,000 tonnes of bamboo, worth Rs.4 crore, was extractable, but the law forbids the extraction of plants from sanctuaries.
The situation in the two forest divisions of South Wayanad and North Wayanad does not differ much from that in the Wayana sanctuary, but 1,300 tonnes out of 4,500 tonnes of dried bamboo has been extracted from the areas so far, P. Dhaneshkumar, Divisional Forest Officer, South Wayanad, says.
Though the forest officials have been taking various measures to tackle the anticipated outbreak of forest fire, the presence of dried bamboo may worsen the situation, Mr. Dhaneshkumar said adding that a single spark is enough to destroy a vast tract of forests.
Thorny bamboo (Bamboosa Bambos) is a monocarpic (flowering only once) plant belonging to the Poaceae family (grass family) and its flowering circle varies from 14 to 30 years, Dr. Ashok Kumar, senior research officer, Centre for Wildlife Studies of the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, says. Seeds have no dormancy and this helps germination under favourable conditions. But, natural regeneration is very low now as the rodent population would increase after the flowering and they would feed on the seeds. Moreover, many a time the herbivores would graze on the younger plants too. Hence, protection from fire and grazing is essential for proper establishment of seedlings, Dr. Kumar says.
The combustible materials have accumulated in the sanctuary this year owing to the erratic monsoon and a spark may cause an uncontrollable disaster, N. Badusha, president, Wayanad Prakruthi Samrakshnana Samiti, says.
The man-animal conflict has already increased in the villages on the fringes of forests owing to the shortage of fodder after the flowering of bamboos. If a wildfire breaks out, it will worsen the situation. The conservation attitude of the local people has subdued after the stray tiger issue in the district a few weeks ago, Mr. Badusha said adding that it is time to sensitise the people to the possible threats and ensure their participation to protect the wildlife.