Wildlife sanctuary lost 230 ha to fire in the past four months

By Ramesh Raut
Published: Wednesday 30 April 2008

frequent, uncontrolled fires are threatening the Gautala Autramghat Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra's Aurangabad and Jalgaon districts. About 40 incidents of fire have been reported from the 260 sq km-sanctuary since December 2007, destroying about 230 hectares (ha). "Last year, this was just 40 ha. This may increase as summer sets in," Mukul Trivedi, deputy conservator of forest (wildlife), Aurangabad, told Down To Earth.

Trivedi says the department lacks money and personnel to prevent fires. As against the three posts of range forest officers and 37 forest guards, it has two officers and 28 guards. The sanctuary needs 30 temporary firewatchers to maintain fire lines, detect forest fires and control it.

This year the department is not hiring anyone due to shortage of funds. "We usually get Rs 300,000 to Rs 400,000 annually for hiring temporary staff and other fire control measures. This year, we demanded Rs 200,000 but the government gave only Rs 86,000," he says. The department used the money to clear pending payments.

"Between December and July, Gautala is covered with dry leaves and grass, making the sanctuary fire-prone. The firelines we create along the roadside and inside the sanctuary check the fire. This year we cannot do it," Trivedi adds.

Officials say the heavy traffic that passes through the sanctuary increases the fire threat--six roads pass through Gautala; one of which is a national highway. Burning cigarettes thrown by passengers cause fire sometimes.

Though there is no village inside the sanctuary, a number of them surround it. Gautala is a linear strip and at some places the forest is so thin that villagers can easily enter. Villagers enter the sanctuary to collect produces, mainly honey. The honey collection practices of villagers involve use of fire. The area houses several religious places. Devotees thronging here carry diyas, candles and incense sticks, aggravating the threat.

There is only one perennial lake in Gautala, two religious shrines stand on two sides of it and a road runs along the third side. Animals are fast disappearing from the sanctuary. There were only six leopards in the sanctuary, of which two were killed recently in road accidents. "How can wild animals come to the lake? We have 24 water tanks but cannot hire tankers to fill them," Trivedi rues.

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