Fire alarm in lion forest
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- Published 18.02.09
Ahmedabad, Feb. 18: A fire broke out in a sanctuary near the lion haven of Gir yesterday, but officials who put out the blaze after 12 hours said the animals were safe.
“There are no reports of any animal casualties in Mitiyala,” said Gujarat principal secretary (forest) S.K. Nanda, referring to the Amreli district sanctuary that is home to six to eight lions. Gir and Mitiyala are only 6km apart.
Nanda said it took more than 300 firefighters to put out the blaze that began around 3 last afternoon.
Conflicting versions about the fire, which burnt 200 hectares of grassland and might have hurt other animals like spotted deer, birds and reptiles, are doing the rounds.
Some forest officials say it could be accidental, caused by a villager lighting up a bidi or cigarette. Others suspect sabotage by sacked contract forest workers. Another theory is that the blaze could have been caused by natural friction between dry leaves and wood. Forest secretary Nanda said a probe had been ordered.
Amreli wildlife activist Amit Jethwa said such fires had become common this time of the year, when temperatures rise and strong winds sweep the arid land. “The authorities should properly investigate the fire, which has become a regular phenomenon.”
The fires are being seen since 2004, when the Mitiyala grassland spread over 18sqkm was declared a sanctuary, Jethwa said. Mitiyala is a corridor for the Asiatic lions on their way to Palitana, a part of Gir.
Jethwa accused forest officials of “playing down” the damage to Mitiyala, a big draw for wildlife enthusiasts and tourists. Part of the problem, he said, was the unrestricted and unlawful movement of villagers through the sanctuary.