Hectic year for Forest department

Several incidents, operations keeps the department on its toes in 2013

From the raging fire that destroyed close to a thousand acres of forest cover at Rajiv Gandhi National Park, Nagarahole, to the elephant capture operation that took place in Alur and Sakleshpur taluks of Hassan district, the Forest department had its hands busy throughout the year.

Unlike 2013, when the ‘man-animal’ conflict claimed the lives of four persons, within a span of a month in Bandipur Tiger Reserve, casualties in terms of humans, were relatively lower this year. However, death of a few individuals, bodies of whom were found deep inside the forest were attributed by locals to tigers.

Forest fire

One of the catastrophes during the year was a major forest fire, which reduced close to 1,200 acres of forest land in Bandipur Tiger Reserve and Nagarahole National Park to ashes, which occurred in the second week of March. The fires were stoked in both the reserves on the same day, with the fire claiming the life of hundreds of animals and birds and destroying the vegetation.

Despite heavy winds which threatened to spread the fire, it was brought under control within three days. Timely action prevented a repeat of the fire in 2012, where close to 8,000 hectares were lost at Nagarahole, Bandipur and BRT Wildlife Sanctuary.

The incident prompted the Director of Nagarahole National Park, R Gokul, to institute a CBI probe into incidents of forest fires in the region.

Operation elephant

Following a High Court order, the Forest department launched a massive operation to capture 25 elephants in conflict with humans at Alur and Sakleshpur taluks of Hassan district. Officials had to face the wrath of villagers during the operation in January, as a woman was trampled in Alur taluk on January 9. Subsequently, the elephant capture operation gained pace and 22 of them — 12 male and 10 female — were caught.

During the operation, male elephants were caught first and shifted to camps in Mysuru, Kodagu and Shivamogga districts. However, during the capture of female elephants, the department was forced to overlook the recommendations of the Oversight Committee formed for the purpose, owing to protests by locals.
The committee had recommended radio-collaring one elephant of a herd (as elephants are closely knit matriarchal groups), to trace other elephants for capturing. The operation to capture the remaining elephants in the region is expected to be launched in the month of January.

Tigers captured

During the year, two tigers were captured in the region. The first was a male, which was captured at Deshipura, Gundlupet taluk, Chamarajanagar district, on September 5. The tiger had severe injuries on its face and eyes and had attacked livestock in the village close to Omkar Forest Range of Bandipur Reserve. The feline was captured and rehabilitated at Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens. The left eye of the cat was surgically removed, owing to the injuries.

The second was a female and was captured at Hirehalli, H D Kote taluk, Mysuru district. The feline had attacked three cattle in a span of two days and had killed one. The tigress, which had lost its left canine, is being treated at the Zoo.

Leopard pest

Leopards continued to be elusive and raised scares in several parts of Mandya, Mysuru and Chamarajanagar districts. A cow was killed, probably by dogs, atop Chamundi Hill. But the incident raised a leopard scare among the residents of the Hill. However, patrol and camera traps during the subsequent days, did not indicate the presence of a leopard near the temple.

While several leopards were captured and released by the Forest department, following complaints about attacks on livestock, one radio-collared female leopard was found dead atop a tree at S Kallahalli on September 12. Later, reports revealed that the feline was poisoned. Two weeks later, three cubs were found by farmers, who were harvesting sugarcane, sparking rumours that the cubs belonged to the dead leopard. Dismissing the speculations, the department personnel tried to reunite them with their mother. Even though the mother leopard was spotted, the cubs were abandoned. All the three died of starvation a few days later.
Poaching

In the month of June, an exchange of fire between Forest officials and poachers triggered tense moments at Malemahadeshwara Hill forest reserve. Following an exchange of fire, Saravanan, a poacher was nabbed.

In October, another exchange of fire resulted in the death of A Palani, a suspected poacher at Gopinatham Forest Range.

Tension prevailed in the region as residents of Govindapadi, where Palani hailed from, and other surrounding villages vandalised a Forest department checkpost at Palar in Tamil Nadu.

Ex-situ conservation

Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, one of the prominent ex-situ conservation sites in the country, had a mixed year. While the death of Polo, the lone gorilla, was a blow, several animals were brought to the Zoo under animal exchange programmes. Zebras from Tel Aviv zoo, Israel, and a pair of one-horned rhinos from Patna zoo were noteworthy additions.

Apart from it, the display of Manya, the white tigress and her three cubs, was a major attractions. Shiva, a tiger which had killed three persons in Bandipur in 2013, was also put on display. Several works were taken up as part of the Zoo’s Master Plan.

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