Forest fires in Uttarakhand threaten rare Himalayan fauna, say experts

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Pithoragarh: Forest fires that occur annually in Uttarakhand not only cause significant damage to the region's precious forest resources like trees, plants, bushes, herbs and thick layer of soil but also threaten rare Himalayan fauna -- wild animals, reptiles, mammals, birds, butterflies, common flies honey bees and soil-enriching bacterias.


"We have several rare species of birds whose breeding season coincides with the forest fire season, from April to June. Frequent and uncontrolled forest fires are gradually making these species highly endangered in Uttarakhand forests," Sanjeev Chaturvedi, chief conservator of forest (Research), said.

According to the CCF, avian species like the cheer pheasant, kalij pheasant, rufous-bellied woodpecker, common rose, chocolate pansy and common crow have their breeding season from March to June, which is also the period when most fires occur in the region's forest area.

"The cheer pheasant, a native bird of western Himalayas, which inhabits at altitudes of 1800-3200 metres is highly vulnerable to forest fires as it makes its nest in deep bushes on ground and its breeding season coincides with the forest fire season," Chaturvedi said. According to him, the cheer pheasant is included in the list of endangered bird species internationally.


"Not only the cheer pheasant but rare birds like the pipit bird, rose finch and the Himalayan monal have also become endangered due to several reasons, including forests fires in the breeding season," Surendra Panwar, a researcher and keen watcher of the Himalayan birds in Munsiyari, said.

According to Panwar, the number of the rarest of rare Himalayan quail, a species known to be beloved by world-famous ornithologist late Salim Ali, is also declining in the region due to the carelessness of the stakeholders of Himalayan fauna. Jagdish Bhatt, founder director of Wings Foundation, an NGO working towards preserving the Himalayan butterflies, says that of the total 350 species of butterflies found in the Himalayan region, 120 are on the verge of getting endangered as they breed in host plants that are destroyed in forest fires. "Even their caterpillar larvae get destroyed in fires making these varieties highly endangered," Bhatt said. The Dehradun-based Forest Research Institute is also researching the impact of forest fires on the yellow-headed tortoise that is found throughout the South Asian region. It is listed in schedule 4th of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and also appears in appendix of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) due to its being endangered, sources said. "Under the study to find the impact of forest fires on its (yellow-headed tortoise) existence, we will deploy radio transmitters on tortoise track for two years in the Chilla range of the Rajaji National Park," CCF Chaturvedi said.

Forest fires in Uttarakhand have affected more than 1,437 hectares of forests since November last year, according to a forest department bulletin.

The recent spell of rains in various parts of the state provided much-needed respite from them with no fresh incidents reported in the past few days, it said.