Roasted and poached

There are reports of fires in the alpine grasslands of Uttaranchal. The official version is that these fires are the usual controlled burning done by the forest department in the hills to prevent the outbreak of a major fire during the dry months.

"This time it has been a dry winter. Since we did not have the ideal weather to do controlled burning, we decided to do it anyway. As all the burning was done almost simultaneously, there seemed to be a major fire in the hills,' says I D Pandey, Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF), Uttaranchal.

However, experts say that the fires in the high altitude grasslands have another motive. Ajay S Rawat, head of the department of history, Kumaon University, Nainital, says that poachers usually set the grasslands on fire to kill the musk deer and bears. As the flames chase the animals, they become easy targets for poachers waiting on the other side of the flames.

Though Pandey apparently has no information about the recent fires, he says that this is the modus operandi of the poachers. The problem is, he says, is of control. "A large area of the alpine grasslands are not under the purview of the forest department and falls under the district administration. Some are also controlled by the panchayats. So it is difficult for us to get into the area and control poaching,' he says.

Experts fear that the wildlife population of the high altitude grasslands might be in grave danger due to rampant poaching.