A raging fire has gobbled up much of the Tadoba Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra. It is estimated that 4000 acres of the lush green habitat is now a vast black terrain without any trace of plant or animal life.
Tadoba Andhari tiger project is in Chandrapur district, 180 km from Nagpur. In recent years the park has been hailed as a prominent tiger destination with some even willing to change the name of Nagpur to ‘Baghpur’ in honor of the bagh or the tiger. But on March 21st a forest fire broke out that created such a havoc in this pristine forest that what remains today is a charred shadow of the real jungle.
The blaze began in the buffer area near Mul and rapidly travelled over vast distances in the 65,000 hectares of the reserve. Forest official tried to douse the fire but there are still places where the burning continues and even restarting.
“We have deployed over 150 people to fight the fire but there are places where it is restarting all over again. We suspect that it is the handiwork of someone who is inside the reserve,”an official at the reserve said.
Officials are still unsure what caused the fire but believe that the locals who still dwell inside the forest might be involved. The officials say that some locals tie up with poachers and start the fire to reduce the density of the forest.
‘Trees that are completely charred do not grow again quickly, plus it does clear out areas and also creates pathways,’ he added.
However the seven clusters living inside the buffer zone have a different tale to tell. They say that forest fires is an annual phenomenon in the summer months and the forest department had failed to draw forest lines this year as a precaution. With the dry foliage covering the ground completely, along with the dry conditions, it is very easy for a fire to break in forests during peak summers.
The officials say that according to wildlife rules, reserves must not have human dwellings. But at most of the country’s national parks, tribals, who have lived in these forests for years, have refused the government’s rehabilitation packages.
‘The government gives each member of the family in a forest cluster lakhs of rupees to move out, but they want more and do not leave. These people then aid poachers in hiding and running away from the forest officers who are not allowed to fire at them.
‘In return, the settlers are allowed their share of timber, firewood, bamboo and so on from the forests, depleting the forest cover,’ another official said.
Indigenous tribes living inside forests are mostly people who know the natural cycle of forest life as well as the other animals and birds living in the jungle. Human carelessness can account for forest fires, but they cannot be completely blamed for the mishap as forest department too is equally responsible for carrying out precautionary measures each year so that such large span of forest is not eradicated in minutes.
For any forest to grow back it takes a minimum of 20 years and then it is not necessary that animals would return to the same area to live, fearing their lives.
What is sad is such precious ecosystem is now gone forever which would have served as a permanent home for India’s tigers and many other species.