Madhya Pradesh worry: wildlife on runway

When two pillars of Madhya Pradesh tourism - its famed wildlife and multiple airports - meet, you have hooves and fangs roaming the runways.

By Rasheed Kidwai in Bhopal
  • Published 7.12.15

Bhopal, Dec. 6: When two pillars of Madhya Pradesh tourism - its famed wildlife and multiple airports - meet, you have hooves and fangs roaming the runways.

Passenger safety is being threatened across airports in India's most centrally located state amid regular encounters with wild boars, jackals, panthers, nilgai, goats, stray dogs, sloth bears, wildcats and a range of other wild and domesticated animals.

On Friday, a SpiceJet flight from Mumbai carrying 49 passengers and a crew of six hit a herd of wild boars while landing at Jabalpur's Dumna Airport, the airline reported.

The Bombardier's de Havilland Dash 8-200 (twin-turboprop) suffered a tyre burst and was badly damaged but none of the passengers was injured. The airport has been shut till December 8.

This has been the most serious runway incident blamed on animals in the state in recent years, but other instances abound.

Some 18 jackals have been trapped in the past one year at Indore's Devi Ahilyabai Holkar Airport. Ten cages with traps have been placed along the runway but aviation experts say this is not enough.

Even Raja Bhoj Airport in state capital Bhopal has had multiple brushes with animals. In November 2012, a Jet Airways pilot spotted a pack of dogs on the runway and aborted takeoff.

A month later, a sloth bear was caught inside the airport and handed over to forest guards. The following year, airport security sighted a panther but forest guards failed to capture it despite using a goat as bait.

Airport director K. Gunasekaran said he had written to Bhopal's civic body to remove meat shops and abattoirs from near the airport, which abuts the densely populated localities of Gandhi Nagar and Bairagarh.

Blue bulls (nilgai) are frequently seen at Gwalior's Maharajpur airbase, used for both commercial flights and air force operations. The forest department has asked the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to raise the air force station's boundary wall.

Officials at the air base say the greenery along the runway attracts the nilgai, while local villagers sometimes bring their cattle to graze there.

Both the Indore and Bhopal airports have witnessed several bird hits.

Airport officials said keeping the animals and birds away posed a catch-22 situation.

"If we regularly mow the grass inside the airport, the insects and worms attract the birds; if we leave the grass untrimmed, there is the risk of wild animals seeking shelter," a senior airport security official told The Telegraph.

The AAI has ordered a probe into the Jabalpur incident, which has triggered controversy.

Forest officials have sought an explanation from district collector S.N. Rupala why they were not made part of the probe if indeed a herd of wild boars had damaged the SpiceJet.

Asked whether wild boars were frequently seen in and around Dumna Airport, about 20km from Jabalpur city, Rupala said: "It could be, but it is for the airport authorities to elaborate."

He added: "All I can say is that neither I nor the local police saw any dead or wounded boar."

A tweet from SpiceJet on Friday evening had said: "SpiceJet Q-400, flight SG 2458, Mumbai to Jabalpur upon landing, hit a herd of wild boars that had strayed into the runway."

Police officers in Jabalpur said a part of the airport's boundary wall was found broken, which would have allowed wild boars to enter the runway. They added that villagers from nearby Gadhari had been using the broken wall to collect fodder from inside the airport.

On another portion of the wall, the barbed wire atop was found covered by piles of grass over a bed of bricks.

Like Gwalior, Jabalpur has several defence establishments.

Pankaj Chaturvedi, a Bhopal-based tour operator, frequent flyer and state Congress spokesperson, said the Jabalpur incident should be a wake-up call for the entire aviation sector. He demanded the Union civil aviation ministry's intervention.