Over 5,000 bamboo seed balls to be dispersed around illegal gold mines in Gudalur

Forest staff in Gudalur disperse bamboo seed balls in Nadugani surrounding the illegal gold mines.

Forest staff in Gudalur disperse bamboo seed balls in Nadugani surrounding the illegal gold mines. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The Forest Department plans to disperse more than 5,000 bamboo seed balls in the Nadugani forest range in Gudalur where illegal gold mines permeate the landscape. The initiative is aimed at afforesting the area to cover up the illegal open gold mining pits that have turned into death traps for wildlife.

In the recent past, forest staff working in the range have found remains of adult tuskers that have died after falling into the pits. They have also rescued elephant calves that have gotten stuck in the mines. Officials say there are believed to be more than 5,000 open mines in the area, where prospectors risk their lives trying to find minimal amounts of gold.

When contacted, District Forest Officer (Gudalur division), Kommu Omkaram, said bamboo was a fast-growing species that could help bind the soil together and prevent the pits from opening up into huge chasms that increase the chance of wildlife getting trapped in them.

Mr. Omkaram said it was hoped that the bamboo would also grow around the pits and serve as a barrier that prevented wildlife from accidentally treading into the mines. “This is going to be a long-term solution to the problem, but hopefully, once around 40-50 % of the area is covered by this bamboo species, it will minimise the risk that these mines pose to wild animals, especially elephants,” said Mr. Omkaram.

Over the decades, the area surrounding Devala town in Nadugani, which served as an important corridor for elephants connecting Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Gudalur to forests and habitats in Kerala, lost contiguity due to the huge increase in illegal mining in the area. Local activists highlighted the risk of the mines to wildlife as well as to people. “There is absolutely no oversight in the illegal mines, which are no-go zones for people. The mines themselves are run by local strongmen who exploit poor people by paying them very small wages to risk their lives to continue working the mines,” said a local activist requesting anonymity.

According to police sources, there are believed to be only a handful of jewellery shops in Devala and Nadugani towns that procure the small amounts of gold directly from these miners and encourage the practice. With the COVID-19 pandemic also rendering a lot of people jobless, there was a significant increase in illegal mining in the region since 2020. Efforts were being taken to shut down these jewellery shops and the mills where the rock was ground up as part of the process to isolate bits of gold mined from the earth, said officials.

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2022 4:36:59 am |