India – The recent forest fires that struck Mt. Abu in Rajasthan, has changed the bio-diversity of the region to a great extent. The sloth bears that breed in the forests of Mt. Abu and the surrounding reserved areas, have moved towards the foot hills. Meanwhile leopard numbers are steadily rising as the fire has brought in a major change in habitat for these animals. According to the wildlife census of 2015, Mt.Abu is home to 326 sloth bears and 40 leopards. The four-day long fire that started in mid-April this year, scorched 350 hectors of forest land.
Villages in the foot hills of Aravalli that never saw movement of bears, have now started spotting sloth bears in high numbers. Number of leopards in Mt. Abu forests were seen in higher number than usual in the first round of census. The District Forest Officer, Mt. Abu, KG Shrivastava, said There has been significant change in wildlife movement after the fire, but thankfully no damage has been reported. The fruits on the trees remained unaffected in the 350 hector of forested land that got torched. We are also providing fruits for animals in the forest areas especially near water holes so as to help animals return.
There is a tiger park here, where panthers were spotted. That apart, eight sloth bear together were seen in some of the foothill areas, he added. Kayzad Contractor, a wildlife enthusiast from Mt. Abu who observes bear movement throughout the year near Sal Gaon village, said, I used to spot one bear in the area, recently more bears are being spotted. One of the bears is with two cubs; I suspect that the bears came down to escape the searing heart of the forest fires. Chaintanya Nimavat from Gandhiangar who is also volunteering for the census said, Based on my interaction with locals, there is significant decrease in birds and reptiles.
The bears must have moved down to the foot hills during the fire and have not returned . Ashutosh Tiwari, another volunteer who participated in the census said, “After much observation and sharing information with the locals, it has come to my attention that many bears have migrated either to foot hills . I was posted in an area named upper Kodra; what used to be a central point for most bears in the area, is all but empty now.” The census will continue on Friday night and the number of animals will be consolidated next week to get the exact number of animals in Mt. Abu and adjoining areas.