India (Kashmir)– The Kashmir valley was home to some of the best-known wildlife in the region. But, in the last decade or so, its flora and fauna have both suffered greatly as humans, ever looking for land and resource, destroyed their natural habitat. Seeing the destruction of their homes, these displaced animals continued to migrate to even denser forest areas but again it didnt prove productive. Many a times these animals fell prey to humans as they moved towards populous areas in search of food.
It was after many efforts that the successive governments started rehabilitating these displaced animals in Dachigam National park .But the fear continued when the safest place turned unsafe for them. The National park has been a protected area since the Maharajas of Jammu and Kashmir had used it as a hunting reserve.
Dachigam (in Kashmiri) derives its name from the 10 villages that existed before the establishment of the protected sanctuary in 1981. The area of the park is spread across 141 sq kilometers and lies at a distance of approximately 22 kilometers from Srinagar.
During the last eight days, Dachigam National Park has been struck by two major forest fires endangering the life of rare wild animals. The first fire, which broke out on February 6, engulfed a major portion of the park, which is a home to scores of Kashmirs endangered species, including rare Hangul. The fire has engulfed parts of Mahadev peak and Charsbal area.
The intensity of the fire was such that it took two days for fire officials to douse it and by the time it had already spread to a huge area.
In yet another incident, the second fire emerged from the Khrew area on Wednesday, which also engulfed a part of the Dachigam forest area.
Reportedly fire affected over a kilometer of forest area which was doused after a long time. While the officials rule out any damage to the forest area and wild animals, it is yet to ascertain the cause of these two forest fire incidents.
The fire was reported at many places. Basically the fire engulfed the bushy area which spread later to other parts. Further no damage was caused to the wild animals here, said Tahir Shawl, Wild Life Warden Dachigam National park.
It is not for the first time that the sanctuary has witnessed fire but many incidents have been reported in the past when huge destruction was caused to its flora and fauna. Earlier in 2002, a similar kind of forest fire engulfed Dachigam National Park which turned a huge green area to ashes. In 2007, a major fire broke out at six different areas inside the National Park. While no loss was reported to the wild animals but a major portion of the vegetation was wiped out due to the fire. Later, the then Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, accompanied by senior officers had to take an emergency aerial survey of the national park to assess the damage caused to it.
It was followed by a fire of similar kind in the year 2010 when the wild life departments had to take assistance from the Fire Service and Emergency Department to douse the fire. As per the reports, the fire was doused after a long time as the fire tenders could not reach to the spot. In 2012 and 2015, few portions of Dachigam National Park again were affected by the forest fire which led to a huge damage to the habitation of wild animals.
While the repeated forest fires have raised concern over the safety of rare animals inside the national park, the Wild Life Department says that these incidents are common during the winter season.
We have collected the data from last 10 years and we found that the fire incident in Dachigam is common during these months. It is a dry spell and these bushes catch fire. We are working to find out the cause and an FIR has been lodged in the police station, said Shawl.
He said the management sometimes also sets fire to the old grass to allow the new grass to grow after the winter season. Not forests but bushes are sometimes set on fire to grow green grass for herbivores animals. But this time whether it caught fire of its own or some people might have set it on fire. We are investigating and the culprits will be dealt strictly, said Shawl.
Despite multiple fire incidents reported inside the national park, the concerned department has failed to upgrade the infrastructure to guard the wild animals which is manned by just 23 officials.
Yes we have some 23 officials here and we depute them at different places to keep a vigil on the forest cover, said Shawl.
The repeated Wild life fire incidents is miffing wild life experts who describe it detrimental for the rare wild life animals inside the park. There is possibility that the rare wild animals could have died inside the park. We have rodents there besides many species of deer, the repeated fire could take a huge toll on them. The yesterdays fire incidents raises a question mark on the performance of the wild life department. The officials should have deputed at different places to prevent such incidents in future, said Bushan Parimoo, a wildlife expert.
Dachigam has been a center of attraction for tourists worldwide. Its dense forests and variable terrain and range of altitude makes Dachigam National Park an abode for a variety of species of animals and birds, many of which are endangered and rare.
Rare animals inside the park include: Kashmir Stag (Hangul), Leopard, Snow Leopard, White-bellied Musk Deer, Himalayan Black Bear, Himalayan Brown Bear, the Otter, Yellow-throated Marten, Himalayan Weasel, Jackal, Long-tailed Marmot, Jungle-cat, Leopard Cat and Himalayan Fox etc.
Avi-Fauna includes Monal Pheasant, Crimson Tragopan, Golden Eagles, Lammergeier Vultures, Blood Pheasant, Cinnamon Sparrows, Woodpeckers, Himalayan Rubythroats, Pygmy Owlets, Babblers, Orange Bullfinch, Golden Orioles, Kashmir Flycatcher, Black Bulbuls and Koklass Pheasant etc.