As fire rages for the 4th day in Bandipur forest, activist says warning signs ignored

According to forest officials, the fire was put out on Saturday night but it has started again in one location.
As fire rages for the 4th day in Bandipur forest, activist says warning signs ignored
As fire rages for the 4th day in Bandipur forest, activist says warning signs ignored

The fire in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka’s Chamarajanagar district continued to rage for the fourth consecutive day despite the continuous effort by foresters, firemen and volunteers. The fire which began on Thursday has affected all six ranges of the forest, primarily due to strong winds and prevailing dry conditions.

As a result, 70% of the forest, spread over more than 2,000-3000 hectares, has been reduced to ashes. Forest officials have stopped issuing permits for safaris in the forest for next week. Tourist vehicles were stopped from entering the forest area since Friday.

In a tweet on Sunday, CM HD Kumaraswamy said, “We are closely monitoring the forest fire in Bandipur. Forest Minister is overseeing preventive action and forest officials and fire service personnel are trying to contain the fire. I have instructed officials to also take preventive measures for the future.”

Sridhar Punnatti, the head of the forest department and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) told TNM, “The fire is on again after we managed to put it out last night. The fire is mainly limited to Gopalaswamy Betta and neighbouring hillocks. We are trying to restrict the fire wherever we can. There is a lot of strong winds. There is no way we can actually go deep inside and put out the fire. Suppose there is a road nearby, we are forced to allow it up to the road and ensure it does not spread to the other side. There are around 300-400 people on the ground including volunteers.”

Other than the loss of green cover, the fire has increased the risk of man-animal conflicts. Activists on the ground witnessed elephants, spotted deer and sambhar trying to escape the smoke and move towards human habitat.

While the weather conditions remain unfavourable, questions have been raised about authorities’ lack of preparedness.

Wildlife conservationist and activist Joseph Hoover said, “Dry weather, strong winds and the hilly terrain — all these factors are making it worse. But on top of that, the lack of preparedness is visible. There is no Conservator of Forests here, we have a Field Director. He is not there at the spot, so we can expect these kinds of things to happen. There attitude of a couple of RFOs (Range Forest Officers),  especially the Kundike RFO and the Bandipur RFO, is lackadaisical. While it is highly impossible to contain these kinds of fires immediately, my question is why weren't we prepared for it? These fires have been going on for the last month in small scales in Kundike, which is a very dry, shrubby area. With the warning signs, they should have been prepared for further eventualities.”

“The Field Director here has been given dual posts of both Bandipur and Mysuru. Moreover, local people should have been taken to confidence as often in the past they being the first responders have dealt with incidents better,” he added.

The Bandipur Tiger Reserve located at the tri-junction area of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and covers an area of 5,52,000 hectares along with the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and the Nagarahole National Park, to form one of India's ecologically diverse regions. It is home to vulnerable species like elephants, gaurs, tigers and Indian rock pythons.

Similarly, neighbouring Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala and Tamil Nadu’s Mudumalai Tiger Reserve saw 60 hectares and 20 hectares of forest affected respectively due to similar forest fires.

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