Haridwar: An invasive weed is threatening to take over the grazing fields of elephants in the Chilla range of the Rajaji National Park.
Of the 820 square kilometre of RNP, up to 250 sq km is already infested with lantana grass, a non-edible weed that is edging out plants which form the food of elephants and other such herbivores. On top of this, the region is denuded of sheesham trees, a known favourite of the jumbos.
Conservationists warn if some measures to remove the weed were not taken immediately, the elephants would gradually move out of the Chilla Range and the park would lose its charm.
Scientist Ritesh Joshi, who has extensively studied about the elephants, said the Rajaji National park has a good habitat for elephants, but the lantana was threatening to destroy it.
“A sheesham sapling takes a few years to grow into a tree. So to replenish the food base of the elephants, other fast-growing species must be grown immediately,” he said.
The forest officials in-charge of park said they
were aware of the problem and were making efforts to eradicate the lantana weed.
“We are trying to remove lantana weed since 2002, but have not been able to do much, because it is highly resistant and spreads fast. Also, the de-weeding cost is very high,” said SP Subudhi, director, RNP.
He said in the past 10 years, the authorities had been able to free only 5 sq km of the weed.
“The CR Babu Technique of de-weeding was effective to a large extent. Under this technique, the part between root and shoot is cut and is kept in upside down, so that the vegetative growth of the weed stops” Subudhi added.
“In the last two years, we have developed Chillawali nursery by growing bamboo seedlings. Around, 25,000 saplings were grown and the target for this year is 2,50,000. In summer season, grass seeds would be sown along with Ber and Shisham saplings,” Subudhi said.