Fires destroy kurinji seeds, plantations in Kurinji Sanctuary
THIRUVANATHAPURAM, April 17: Large tracts protected areas in Kurinjimala Sanctuary, Pampadumshola National Park and Periyar Tiger Reserve in Idukki district of Kerala were destroyed in fires during the past month.

Hundreds of hectares in Kurinjimala Sanctuary were burnt as encroachers allegedly set fire to plantations and grasslands in a bid to get the areas excluded from the sanctuary. The attempt was aimed at preventing growth of neelakurinji plants in the area.

Neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana), which flowers gregariously once in 12 years, flowered last year in the Sanctuary. The flowers take several months to mature and are dispersed through what is known as explosive dispersal. The seedpods dry up and crack open with a popping sound to disperse the seeds during summer. The arsonists were trying to disrupt this process and prevent germination of the seeds for flowering in 2030.

The first of the fires started last month and spread to Pampadumpara National Park also. The forest staff could not do much in controlling the fires. Early this week, fires broke out in the Kambakallu-Kadavari area near Vattavada.  Incidentally, some of these areas are close to the forest office at Kadavari. Fires were also reported from Kanthalloor. The Department is yet to apprehend any. Instead, it is working on costly projects such as creation of tree-breaks and fire lines to check fires from spreading.

The Periyar Tiger Reserve is witnessing fires this summer downstream of the Mullaperiyar reservoir. Satellite data indicate that fires occurred at several places not far from the western side of the reservoir. In April last year, around 500 hectares were gutted on the eastern side of the reservoir (upstream).

Picture on the left shows fires recorded by satellites between March 18 and April 17, 2019 in Kurinjimala Sanctuary and nearby areas in Idukki district of Kerala. Picture below shows area burnt (shaded yellow) in fires in April last year in Periyar Tiger Reserve, Kerala, India.

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