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Forest fires threaten tiger reserves in India

Published 02/05/2016

Forest fires in northern India are putting two tiger sanctuaries at risk
Forest fires in northern India are putting two tiger sanctuaries at risk

Massive forest fires sweeping across the north Indian state of Uttarakhand are threatening two tiger reserves, officials said.

After state firefighters were unable for months to put out the fires - which have killed seven people - the Indian government sent Air Force helicopters over the weekend to drop water on the blazes covering nearly 23 square kilometers (8 square miles) of pine forests.

Dozens of fires were burning on Monday, threatening two major tiger reserves - Corbett National Park and Rajaji National Park - according to state forest officer Bhanu Prasad Gupta.

Officials said the fires had been exacerbated by the year's dry weather, after two consecutive years of poor monsoon rains.

Since February, the blazes have spread to 13 districts destroying vast swathes of forest land across Uttarakhand, Mr Gupta said.

Dense smoke was hampering efforts to put out the flames, he said.

"We are struggling to bring the situation under control," he said.

Authorities have detained four men for questioning on suspicion they started some fires in a bid to clear land for real estate development, according to Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javdekar.

He said the government would not allow the use of forest land for any other purpose.

"Not a single inch of forest land will be allowed to be encroached or diverted by anybody," Mr Javdekar said.

Wildlife conservation officials said the fire had caused severe damage to the eco-system of the forests. More than 530 hectares (1,310 acres) of the Rajaji and Corbett tiger reserve had been destroyed by the fire, adversely affecting animals and birds in the area.

"This is the breeding season of many avian species. The fire has destroyed their eggs," said Ramesh Unnwal, a wildlife official.

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