Written by Simar Sangla, a grade 9 student (going to grade 10)
A huge fire has been raging in Odisha’s Similipal National Park, called the pride of Odisha, since the 27th of February.
About the park
Located in the largest district of Odisha by area – Mayurbhanj district, Similipal is a national park and a tiger reserve. It is the 7th largest national park in India and Asia’s 2nd largest biosphere reserve known for its Tiger and Elephant Population. On June 22, 2004, the government of India declared Similipal and its adjoining areas a biosphere reserve. It is a protected area and is part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves since 2009. In Similipal there are – 94 species of orchids, 3,000 species of plants, 12 species of amphibians, 264 species of birds, 29 species of reptiles, and 42 species of mammals, all of which highlight the diverse biodiversity of Similipal.
What’s happening with the fires?
There’s been a long dry spell in many central and eastern Indian states, including Odisha. It was an unusually dry winter and the temperatures rose suddenly in February, leading to many wildfires.
The fires in the Similipal biosphere reserve have now topped the list of forest fire incidents. It’s had 8,688 fire spots since February 25 as per the Forest Survey of India’s fire alerts system.
On 2nd March 2021, many noted personalities of Odisha took to Twitter to draw the Centre and State government’s attention to the fires, which to prevent further destruction of the forests. Following this, the authorities took action, and the fires were reported to be under control on 3rd March.
As per Maloth Mohan, the Regional Conservator, a total of 399 fire points have been identified in the fringe areas bordering the forest.
Why is it burning?
The issue is that Similipal has Deciduous trees – forests that shed their leaves annually. The forest area starts getting dry due to which the leaves spread on the floor. Then natural factors like high temperature or lightning occur and these dry leaves tend to catch fire. However, this usually happens towards the end of the summer season, when rain can control the area of the forest fire. It is currently March and if these fires are happening much prior to monsoon then this is not a natural fire.
The regional chief conservator of forests of Baripada circle, M Yogajayananda said ” These are not continuous fires that we see in places like the US or Australia, but sporadic fires that are caused due to anthropogenic factors. There has been no loss of wildlife due to the fire.”
The anthropogenic factors are those caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural activities.
Lala AK Singh, a wildlife expert who has worked in Similipal for 34 years, says that these fires of Similipal are man-made. He’s spoken about Akhand Shikar – a ritual of many forest-dwelling communities, where they usually clear the ground bushes and grasses by setting them on fire to enhance their visibility in the forest. He suspects that this is one of the reasons for the fires.
He also adds that “Another reason for setting the ground on fire is to help them see animals, especially carnivores such as tigers, to thwart any possible attack on them. This helps them to safely collect minor forest products,”
Another theory (put forward by down to earth) says that the fire could have been caused by people who were collecting Mahuli flowers found in the forest area, which are used to make toddy (a drink).
Some people have blamed it as an intelligence failure of the forest department.
Parts of Odisha crossed 40 °C on 28th February 2021. Increasing temperatures and strong dry winds cause friction between leaves and twigs, sparking fires.
The real and the exact cause of this is still being researched and looked upon. However, many reports have indicated that it could be either climate change or illegal mining, or even a mixture of all the facts stated above which led to the red-hot fire in Similipal.
Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik had reviewed the situation at the national park and said that there was no loss of life or damage to big trees. However, conservationists working in Similipal said that several orchids and medicinal plants may have been burnt by the fire.
The conclusion – Why do we need to worry?
Forest fires are a recurring and regular phenomenon in the state in the summer season with rising temperatures. Huge leaf shedding of deciduous forests are highly combustible and a big fire hazard, the former principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) said.
Meetings and awareness campaigns with the general public are conducted under the aegis of Van Sanrakshan Samitis (VSS), joint forest management (JFM) committee, and eco-development societies throughout the state, with about 13,500 active VSS/EDCs.
If such incidents start taking place regularly in a country with mega biodiversity like India, it can result in major economic and social loss. Disasters like Similipal forest fires destroy the environment and contribute to creating an imbalance in nature which, with increasing climate change, can prove to be hazardous in the years ahead.
So with the help of the government and at our individual level, we should be respectful towards nature and do what we can and, is suitable to conserve the environment for the generations ahead of us.
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