Friday, May 15, 2009


Forest fires are a huge problem in summer, and they can lay waste extensive areas if not immediately checked. They are usually started by villagers living inside the forest. The aim is to clear the ground of dead leaves, making it easy to collect fallen mahua flowers and tendu leaves. Mahua flowers are used for making the alcoholic beverage of the same name, and tendu leaves are used for making "bidis" (cigarettes).

Sometimes the locals also start fires to scare wild animals into running out - making them easier to hunt.

The slightest change in wind direction can start an enormous conflagration and cause immeasurable damage to wildlife and the forest. Given that protected areas are almost always understaffed, it's rare that a fire gets put out quickly.

I took the first three photos in Bori-Satpuda Tiger Reserve in March this year. We saw the fire on our way out of the reserve after completing our four day medical camp. Luckily there were seven of us on this trip and we managed to create fire lines and control the blaze before the forest staff arrived. I must admit I found it scary to be so close to the rapidly shifting flames and intense heat. There were moments when the fire seemed to be racing towards us.

The fourth picture I took in Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve last week. These charred trees are all that remain of the once-lush meadow of Pandarpaoni, a favoured spot of herbivores in the reserve. A month ago a huge fire burned down all the lovely long grass, in which even tigers could remain hidden. Again, local villagers are believed to have started it.

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