The core area of the Nagarahole National Park, encompassing grassy swampland surrounded by bamboo groves, has been completely devastated by the fire that broke out early this week.
The air in the critical tiger and elephant habitat is hazy with smoke from smouldering embers. Forest watchers and temporary staff roped in from the local tribal community are still stomping out small flames emanating from the destroyed vegetation.
A convoy comprising Minister for Forests C.P. Yogeshwar, Forest Department officials and journalists made its way along the serpentine road through the evergreen or moist deciduous forests at Marappanakatte on Thursday and saw an eerie wasteland.
A herd of elephants with a calf walked gingerly across the ravaged forests looking for fodder. Lying on the ground was the carcass of a giant Malabar squirrel that had been roasted alive.
The authorities are yet to come to terms with the devastation. Summer is still to set in and there are two more scorching months ahead with no sign of rain to help tide over the crisis that has engulfed Nagarahole.
The extent of damage in the Nagarahole National Park is estimated at 600 hectares to 700 hectares, of which 509 hectares of pristine forests was devastated in the core area surrounding Marappanakatte alone. However, NGOs say this is an underestimation.
We have calculated the extent of damage using GPS technology and believe that 509 hectares of forests has been reduced to cinders in the Nagarahole core area, said B.J. Hosmath, Field Director, Project Tiger.
Officials were reluctant to name any suspected arsonists and praised the tribal community for helping curb the raging fire within four days.
Vijayranjan Singh, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Nagarahole, claimed that fire lines had been drawn before the dry season set in and denied that there was any complacency.
Shimoga Staff Correspondent reports:
The fire that broke out in the Shettihalli Wildlife Sanctuary in Shimoga district has been completely extinguished. Speaking to The Hindu over the telephone on Thursday, Deputy Conservator of Forests T.J. Ravikumar said that a detailed survey would be conducted. The preliminary assessment of loss would be available in three days, he said.
Minister for Forest Mr.Yogeshwar conducted a spot inspection of Nagarahole Nationa Park on Thursday to apprise himself of the fire damage. Field Director of Project Tiger B.G.Hosmath,Vijayaranjan Singh DCF, is also present. Photo: M.A.Sriram