Nepal — In what looks like a growing threat to endangered species of Chitwan National Park (CNP), wildfires continue to rage through Nepal´s oldest protected area. Chitwan, nearly half of its area covered by CNP, has always had to deal with higher number of wildfire incidents than any other district of Nepal over the last few weeks. In the last four days, between April 9 and 12, wildfires have been detected in as many as 277 places, 49 of which are in Chitwan district alone.
On Saturday, wildfires raged through as many as 76 places of the country, 15 of which were detected just in Chitwan district. Most of wildfires detected in Chitwan are inside the CNP, which is a habitat of endangered animals like Royal Bengal Tigers and one-horned Rhinoceros beside scores of threatened species.
Since April 9, a system jointly developed by the Ministry of Forest and Soil Conservation (MoFSC) and the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) has traced over 10 wildfires in Chitwan every single day. No other district than Chitwan, except Nawalparasi for one day, has had to deal with more than 10 wildfires in a single day. In other districts, even in the Tarai belt, relatively lesser numbers of wildfires have been detected in this period.
Although wildfires have not evidently affected big wild animals like tigers, rhinoceros and elephants until now, the CNP authorities admit that threatened species like reptiles and butterflies must be under a serious threat caused by raging forest fires. “We are aware of threats from wildfires,” said Kamal Jung Kunwar, chief warden of the CNP. “But, we are ill-equipped to deal with them.”
About a month ago, CNP was provided with a vehicle and a set of fire-fighting tools, which the MoFSC received from the Japan government. In 2010, the Japan government had pledged a grant to the Nepal government for protecting forests from wildfires. Under the Rs 460 million-grant, the MoFSC has received 53 vehicles and 120 sets of fire-fighting tools, which have been distributed among national parks, district forest offices (DFOs) and several forestry departments. “The CNP area is too large for us to control forest fires with just one vehicle and one set of equipments,” said Kunwar. “In addition, we lack a clear strategy, too.”
According to Kunwar, most of wildfires detected inside the CNP are ignited by the local villagers who go into the wood to collect fuel-wood and leaves. “They are unaware of consequences of wildfires,” says he. “When fires break out in the thick forest, far-flung from our headquarters and security posts, it would be very difficult for us to get there and control them on time.”
Kunwar said they are also carrying out ´controlled burning´, which is a scientific way of grassland management and forest preservation. “All fires detected inside the CNP may not be hazardous since some of them are results of controlled burning,” said he.
However, forest fire management experts say it is not right time for control-burning. “Controlled burning is necessary; but it should have been done between January and February,” said Sundar Sharma, coordinator of Regional South Asia Wildlife Fire Network. “April is the peak season for forest fires. At this time, forests are very dry and even controlled burning could lead to disastrous incidents.”
Forest fires claim human lives, destroy hundreds of acres of forest area, cause damages to endangered wild animals, threatened species and flora and fauna every year. However, the MoFSC has still not set up a unit under it to tackle forest fires – something envisioned in the national strategy for forest fire management. ”