India — A vast area of forest land in the Abhaypur forest reserve of Sivasagar district has been burnt by unidentified miscreants over the last few weeks. Many animals, including leopards, are feared to have been killed.
However, officials of the Sonari forest range, under whose jurisdiction the forest reserve falls, claimed there has been no loss of wildlife in the forest fire.
“Almost 50 hectares of the reserve forest have been burnt. We have searched the whole area, but we have not found any animal carcasses,” said divisional forest officer (Sivasagar) Nava Kumar Malakar.
“Sporadic flames were seen in the forest. The fire has been on since last month. Over the last few weeks, a vast portion of the forest’s land has been damaged in the inferno,” added Malakar.
The fire, which started on March 25, has engulfed about 10 hectares of forest land.
“More than 10 hectares of forest land in the Abhaypur reserve has been burnt. But the miscreants involved in the incident have not been identified yet. The flames were doused only after it rained,” said forest range officer (Sonari) V Kerketa.
The reserve forest is spread across Assam and Nagaland.
“There are many elephants in the forest, but they have moved to those portions of the forest which are in Nagaland. The leopards, too, must have shifted to safer areas,” said Kerketa.
He added that the forest is home to many leopards, monkeys, wild elephants and some endangered species. Leopards tranquilized or captured from different parts of the district are generally released in this forest reserve. In the last two years, forest staff have released 25 such leopards in the reserve.
Locals said almost half the forest reserve has been burnt so far. Areas like Tongia, Janoki Pathar, Kherbari and Singlow Pathar have been burnt to ashes. Locals added that the forest department had turned a blind eye to the devastation.
“There are only two forest officials at the Singlow Pathar beat office. The blaze started in the reserve on March 25 and it broke out at least six more times in several places,” said a Singlow Pathar local.
“But the forest department has remained a mute spectator. It doesn’t even have adequate staff to control the fire,” the local added. “We believe that apart from valuable trees, many animals have been burnt alive in the inferno,” he added.
The Abhaypur forest reserve is located along the Assam-Nagaland border in Sivasagar district.
There have been reports of encroachment by Naga and Assamese miscreants in area belonging to the forest reserve in recent times. The actual area of the forest has shrunk to a great extent.