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Fire engulfs tiger reserve area

india Updated: Feb 18, 2009 14:03 IST
Reena Sopam and SK Shukla
Reena Sopam and SK Shukla
Hindustan Times
Fire engulfs tiger reserve area

A fire, suspected to have been ignited by poachers and the timber mafia, raged in the core Project Tiger area of the Madanput forest range in the state's West Champaran district for 10 days before it was finally doused on Monday.

The 900-sq km sanctuary was home to about 35 tigers according to the tiger census two years ago. A survey by an independent agency put the current number around 12.

Though it could not be ascertained if any tigers were killed by the fire or trapped by poachers while escaping, the devastation in terms of other wildlife and trees has been huge.

Forest department officials said such fires are a regular feature here and that they have entirely wiped out all reptile species from the sanctuary.

The four varieties of deer which live in this sanctuary also been hit hard by the periodic man-made fires here.

Cheetals, deer, neelgais and other animals have died in large numbers in the latest fire, according to people living around the sanctuary in West Champaran, 200 km northwest of Patna.

Neelgais escaping from the fire are reported to have been brought down by village dogs and later feasted upon by residents.

Divisional Forest Officer Surendra Singh said, "This is common in the inner reaches of the villages." He said the smokescreen is used by the timber mafia to cart away the logs while poachers trap animals trying to escape the fire.

Forest officials said that while poaching by Indian nationals has been curbed, incursions by Nepalese poachers have been a regular feature.

The trapped tigers land up in the Chinese markets, where every part of their flesh and carcass is used for various purposes.

A forest department official in Patna said efforts to put down the fire were severely restricted by a shortage of personnel, vehicles and fire-fighting capabilities. "A damage assessment of wood and animals lost is still to be made," he said on condition of anonymity.

The forest tract devastated in the past has seen the growth of phoenix and lentana grass which the forest animals do not eat. Thus the food chain also stands devastated.