Animals in Karnataka’s reserve forests, already reeling under the effects of prolonged drought and recurring forest fires, are now facing a new challenge– poisoning by humans. On Thursday, five spotted deer and seven barking deer were found dead near a mostly dry stream just outside the Metikuppe range of the Nagarhole Reserve Forest in HD Kote taluk.
S Manikantan, the Conservator of Forests and Director of Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, told The New Indian Express that it is suspected the deer died after consuming seeds from a nearby field and then drinking from the stream. He added that the cause of death of the deer could only be confirmed after samples from the area were forensically tested.
The Hindu reported that forest officials had collected samples of the water to confirm if it had been accidentally contaminated or deliberately poisoned. However, it also cited sources within the Forest Department who said that watering holes are frequently deliberately contaminated with the low-cost fertiliser urea, which poisons and kills deer that are then poached for meat.
One such suspected case of poisoning had come to light last month in Nakkundi village in the Hoogyam range of MM Hills, when some dogs were found dragging around a skull of a sambar deer. Post-mortem reports had found that it had been killed due to urea poisoning.
The cheap availability of urea has meant that the fertiliser is excessively used in many such areas around reserve forests, which often leads to poisoning of local watering holes. Added to this, with poachers deliberately poisoning water sources, the threat to wildlife is magnified.
For the animals in Karnataka’s reserved forest, this comes as an added threat at a point where many water sources have already dried up due to the persistent drought, and frequent forest fires are killing many small animals. According to The Hindu, nearly 350 of the total 370 water sources in Bandipur and about three-quarters of the 158 watering holes in Nagarhole have dried up. In the Metikuppe range, 22 of the 28 watering holes have run dry.
While large animals such as elephants often migrate to neighbouring states when Karnataka’s forests run dry, this year drought and water shortage are plaguing the entire south.
The Forest Department is undertaking emergency measures such as supplying water through tankers and solar borewells. However, activists say this emergency supply may not be sufficient to the needs of the animals.