Natural Disasters

Odisha had half of India’s wildfires on March 13 — & poachers may be to blame

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests alleges hunters setting fire to target wild animals; one suspect arrested 

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Monday 13 March 2023
Unabated forest fires seriously threaten wildlife and their habitat areas. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty
Unabated forest fires seriously threaten wildlife and their habitat areas. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty Unabated forest fires seriously threaten wildlife and their habitat areas. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty

Wildfires raging around parts of Odisha accounted for around half the forest fires in India on March 13, 2023, according to Forest Survey of India (FSI) data. Several wildfires in the state are human-made and the handiwork of poachers targeting wild animals, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) alleged.

Poachers are starting wildfires forest fires to hunt wild animals, particularly herbivores, said a forest officer. 

Forest personnel arrested a 28-year-old suspected poacher with a country-made gun from the Karada jungle in Kandhamal district’s Raikia forest range on March 12, 2023, which led to the revelation.

Read more: Odisha experiencing the country’s worst forest fires again, 642 incidents in March

The accused, Sanjit Pradhan of Mangalapur near Raikia, was arrested while on the prowl to hunt after setting fire on the one side of the dense jungle, alleged K Patel, divisional forest officer, Phulbani. “We have also seized a country-made gun from him,” he said.

Pradhan was also accompanied by two-three people who managed to escape. A search is on to arrest his accomplices.

The forest squad detected a gang of armed poachers in the dense forest, waiting to poach the wild animals at night, said Manikeswari Patnaik, range officer, Raikia.

Setting forest on fire is a punishable offence under the Odisha Forest Act and anyone found guilty of the crime may be punished with a jail term of three to seven years, sources in the forest department said.

Locals also set fire to the jungles for shifting cultivation, collection of mahua flowers and kendu leaves, said a forest officer.

Debidutta Biswal, PCCF Odisha, has warned to take stringent action against those who fire in the forest areas illegally. There is a provision of Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 to be rewarded to people who inform about the forest fires in the state.

The unabated forest fires seriously threaten wildlife and their habitat areas, said Biswajit Mohanty, former National Board for Wildlife member. The wild animals, mostly the herbivores, will be targeted by the poachers to hunt, when they come out from the razing forest areas, he said.

Read more: More than 100 days of dry spell have caused 200 forest fires in Odisha since January 1: Data

Meanwhile, Odisha registered around 45 per cent of the country’s major fire incidents on March 13, 2023.

As many as 156 major active forest fire spots were detected across Odisha — the highest such incidents in the country on March 13, according to the Forest Survey of India (FSI) data.

There were 357 major active fire incidents in 20 states across the country on the same day, according to FSI. Odisha was followed by Chhattisgarh (34), Andhra Pradesh (32), Maharashtra (21) and Telangana (18), sources said.

Since November 1, 2022, as many as 1,112 major forest fires have been detected in Odisha — the highest among the states in the country. Andhra Pradesh (827), Karnataka (728), Telangana (534) and Chhattisgarh (403) follow Odisha for the number of forest fires, according to FSI data.

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