• In the first week of October 2018, as the southwest monsoon retreated from south Karnataka, the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, located 80 km south of Mysuru, was a sight to behold.
  • The Bandipur Tiger Reserve is flanked by the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary in Kerala and the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu.
  • It is home to nearly 570 tigers, according to the ‘Status of Tigers in India, 2014’ report by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
  • These tigers share the forest with elephants, dholes, leopards and other mammals, making the tiger reserve an ecological hotspot.
  • When the northeast monsoon failed, it set alarm bells ringing in the Forest Department.
  • The abundance of leaf litter and dry shrubs provides an ideal condition for wildfire.
  • People raced against time to clear the dry vegetation through controlled burning in different parts of the forest along what is known as the fire line.
  • A standard practice in all national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the country, this reduces the amount of combustible material in the forest and minimises the intensity of the fire in case of an outbreak.
  • By mid-December, the deciduous forests of Bandipur filled with dry Lantana camara — an invasive weed that covers almost 50% of the 912.04 sq km reserve — had become a powder keg.
  • It was a similar scenario in Wayanad and Mudumalai too.
  • In both these reserve forests, fewer fire incidents in the last two years had led to an accumulation of combustible material.
  • The rise in temperature coupled with the dearth of summer rains had turned the entire forest area into a tinderbox.
  • The first major fire was reported around noon on February 21, at Bandipur’s Kundukere range. It was brought under control within hours.
  • An IAF helicopter executing the ‘Bambi Bucket’ operation to contain the forest fire in Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Chamarajanagar district.
  • However, the first line of defence against forest fires are the tribals, drawn mainly from the Jenu Kuruba, Soliga, and Betta Kuruba tribes.
  • About 400 of them were deployed as fire-watchers, and if not for them, the damage would have been far greater, say officials, underlining the importance of involving local communities in forest conservation initiatives.
  • Windy weather made the task of containing the flames almost impossible.
  • But as the wind velocity subsided a little, volunteers closed in to clear the shrubs.
  • With the help of the tribals, they created a bald patch of land to starve off the approaching wall of fire.