Massive fire threatens to cause colossal damage to Similipal Biosphere

03 March 2021

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INDIA – A massive fire has threatened to cause colossal damage to Similipal Biosphere — one of the largest biospheres of India — prompting the Odisha government to deploy a big contingent of field level staff to douse it.

Expressing concern, Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar has sought a report.

The fire that broke out in isolated places of Similipal in Mayurbhanj district in the first week of February has spread to eight forest ranges and is raging.

Though the State government said the core area of the biosphere was untouched by the fire, environmentalists and local activists raised alarm over possible damage to flora and fauna.

The biosphere spread over 4,374 sq. km. has 845 sq. km. of core forest (tiger reserve), 2,129 sq km buffer area and 1,400 sq km of transition space.

“More than 1,200 field staff, 225 fire watchers and squads with 240 fire blowers are working round the clock to prevent further spread,” said M. Yogajayananda, Regional Chief Conservator of Forest, Baripada.

Mr. Yogajayananda said there was no report of major wildlife death or dense forest being affected.

Akshita M. Bhanj Deo, a scion of the erstwhile Mayurbhanj royal family, said the fire was absolutely devastating for wildlife and indigenous community living in around Similipal. She expressed fear that the melanistic tiger the Similipal is famous for could become extinct.

Officials said unprecedented dryness caused by early arrival of summer had caused the fire.

“Local people usually set sal leaves lying on ground on fire to collect Mahua and other non-timber forest produce. The heat-wave condition in Mayurbhanj aided the fire. Luckily, the core area of the Similipal National Park does not have any major fire,” said J. D. Pati, Deputy Director Similipal.

Similipal has 1,076 flowering species and 96 species of orchids. It boasts of having tropical semi-evergreen forests, tropical moist deciduous forests, dry deciduous hill forests, high level sal forests and sprawling meadows.

Similipal is home to a wide range of wild animals including tigers and elephants, besides 304 species of birds, 20 species of amphibians and 62 species of reptiles.

Principal Chief Conservator of Forest Sashi Paul has been asked to monitor the situation and submit a report to the government.

Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Dharmendra Pradhan tweeted that “Distressed to learn about the forest fires raging in Similipal Tiger Reserve from social media platforms. Request the urgent attention of Shri @PrakashJavdekar and CM Shri @Naveen_Odisha on this alarming situation at one of the most important biosphere reserves of the country.”

“I have ordered officers to take immediate action and report it to me,” said Mr. Javadekar responding to the tweet.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who reviewed the situation, was informed that the fire was under control and no loss to wildlife and big trees had been reported.

“Similipal is an invaluable nature treasure not only for Odisha and India, but also for the world. All precautionary steps are being taken to protect the forest,” said Mr. Patnaik.

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