India — Officials at Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), who have been losing sleep over forest fires for a month now, received another jolt on Wednesday when the flames began to engulf areas close to the tiger safari area.
The situation threatened to go out of control, but forest officials, along with workers, prevented the blaze from spreading further.
They took some swift measures and moved a tigress and two cubs from a secondary cage to the main enclosure.
There was no immediate threat to the cats, but officials didnt take any chances as they were aware how quickly such a fire spreads.
A fire raged behind the safari area near the old Mafco and the Kanheri caves road (on Wednesday). At 1.30 pm, we realised that it was spreading in areas around the safari area.
The situation was quite tense as tigress Basanti and her two cubs, which are about four months old, were in the secondary cage of the safari, a senior forest official said. The first priority was to get them back in the primary enclosure.
The official said that the tigress and her cubs were at some distance from the area where the fire erupted. However, we knew that it would take only a few minutes for acres of forest land to turn into ashes, the official said. To move the cats to safety, we rang a bell that is normally used to call back tigers to their cages.
Next, forest officials and labourers fanned out to douse the fire near the tiger safari. Fire brigade was called to control the flames near Kanheri road. We have been working almost round the clock every day for the past one month to fight forest fires. Hundreds of guards and labourers are maintaining vigil.
They put out fires before the flames become intense, the director of SGNP, PN Munde, said. Wednesdays incident sparked a major scare, but we managed to bring the situation under control.
On 18 March, 2009, a similar forest blaze broke out near the tiger safari area, but no animals were injured as authorities took swift action. A range forest officer at SGNP, Anil Todarmal, pointed out that dry bamboo was one of the main reasons why fires were spreading quickly. Once dry bamboo, which are tall, catch fire, its next to impossible to control the flames, he said.
Meanwhile, forest guards complain that though they battle forest fires almost every year, the State Forest Department has not considered providing them better equipment to deal with such situations.