Blazing fires still threaten Nilgiris forests

March 13th, 2008 - 5:16 pm ICT by admin  

Coimbatore, March 13 (IANS) Over 6,000 sq km of the precious Nilgiris forests, a heritage ecosystem, is threatened by forest fires that are still blazing, wildlife department officials said here Thursday. The biosphere straddles three south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala and holds the reserve forests of Nagarhole and Bandipur (Karnataka), Mudumalai (Tamil Nadu) and the unique Silent Valley (Kerala).

Tamil Nadu’s forest department has been put on high alert in the Mudumalai forest ranges.

“As the Mudumalai forest is congruent with the Bandipur forest, Tamil Nadu is especially alert and pro-active,” said Rakesh Dogra, Nilgiris wildlife warden.

The department has closed down the Mudumalai national park until May end, “to better control fires and water sources and keep tourists away at a time when forest fires are raging”.

The department fire-fighting force “is closely watching the Bandipur and Nagarhole forest fires”, Chief Conservator of Forests, Tamil Nadu, V.N. Singh told IANS. “We have to be vigilant though, so far, Tamil Nadu has not been much affected,” he added.

The forest department has arrested six people in the Gudalur reserve forest for lighting fires and destroying at least two acres of grassland. The men worked for a private estate in the area, sources said.

Large fires are still raging in the Nagarhole forest too and more than a 100 people have been deployed in “backfire operations”, by which a controlled ring of fire is lit to restrict large fires from spreading to new areas.

A large number of wild animals, among them elephants, tigers and deer are reported to be on the move across the Mudumalai and Muthanga (Kerala) ranges, fleeing the fires and also in search of food.

Kerala Forest Minister Benoy Viswam has sought “joint monitoring and concerted action for prevention and control of forest fires”, between the three southern states.

In Palakkad district of Kerala, Mannarkkad forest is affected, as is Thrissur district, which is open to hot dry winds from mainland Tamil Nadu.

There have been reports of fires at Moolahalla and in the Silent Valley (SV), one very close to the SV core area, and in Muthanga.

Fires have also broken out in Tamil Nadu forests close to the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary and Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary.

Last Sunday fires were reported from Agasthyakoodam biosphere in Tamil Nadu and Wayanad biosphere in Kerala.

Fires were also reported in the forests near Thiruvananthapuram, in the Upper Sanatorium, Kambimoodu and Ponmudi regions.

Some grassland in the proposed Indian Institute of Space Science complex has also been destroyed, reports from the area said.

Constituted in 1986 under Unesco’S Man and Biosphere Programme, the biosphere also includes the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mukurthi National Park.

The Bandipur reserve is spread over 865 sq km, with 321 sq km in Tamil Nadu making up the Mudumalai sanctuary. The two parts of the sanctuary are separated by the Moyar river. The Nagarhole reserve forest is spread over about 700 sq km and the Silent Valley reserve is about 90 sq km.

Photographs taken by NASA satellites have shown several fires in the core areas of the Nilgiris bio-reserve.

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