KARNATAKA

Threat of fire looms large over Bandipur, Nagarahole parks

IN SEARCH OF FOOD: Fodder has become scarce in the Bandipur National Park owing to scanty rainfall forcing animals to move to other places. Photo: M.A. Sriram  

R. Krishna Kumar

Over a dozen minor conflagrations reported this year

The region has received 50 per cent of the annual rainfall this year Faced with shortage of staff, officials are struggling to ward of major fire

MYSORE: The threat of a major forest fire looms large over Bandipur and Nagarahole National Parks where over a dozen minor conflagrations have been reported this year.

The days ahead are reckoned to be crucial for the animals of the forests as the region has received only 50 per cent of the annual rainfall this year.

As against 60 inches of rain that lashed Bandipur in 2005 that helped ward off major fires, the national park area has received less than 30 inches of rain in 2006. As a result, the forests are bone dry and the animals have moved into the last surviving green tracts inside the jungles in search of fodder.

Forest Department officials told The Hindu that about a dozen fires had been reported, but they were brought under control and the damage was contained to within an acre or two. "But we are keeping our fingers crossed as the national park is bone dry and the rains have failed this year. A major fire will not only be imminent, but could also have devastating consequences," an official said.

Consequences

Bandipur has a history of forest fires that have reduced vast tracts of the national parks to cinders in the past. One of the consequences of frequent fires is the growth of fire-resistant species that are not edible for the herbivore animals and has an impact on their numbers as the food supply has been reduced. Herbivores have now abandoned such habitats which are now degraded.

The other problem plaguing Bandipur is the spread of lantana and eupatorium, which are weeds. While lantana was found in small patches a few years ago, it has spread to Bandipur, Kalkere, Begur, Gundre, Chowdally, Idasanahatty etc and poses a threat to the fodder of the herbivores. Once the herbivore population moves away, it has a bearing on the carnivores such as tigers, leopards and the dholes, who too abandon the habitat.

While the hardy fire-resistant species are not edible for animals, lantana is highly combustible and abets fire.

"We have drawn 1,000-km stretch of fire lines to prevent the spread of any conflagration and 250 fire watchers have been recruited on a temporary basis.

There are 10 ranges in Bandipur and 25 persons man each range. Our staff are constantly monitoring the forest from watchtowers and are on the look out for smoke," Deputy Conservator of Forests Rangappa said.

Forest fires at Bandipur and Nagarahole are not only severe and ravaging, but their regular occurrence causes soil to deteriorate and results in loss of humus content in the soil.

The degraded habitats are abandoned by animals as they lose natural cover. The high temperature generated by fire destroys many micro organisms while many small animals and birds perish in the ground fire.