‘Zoo-cum-safari imperils wildlife in Bellary’

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7Former minister Gali Janardhana Reddy might be languishing in jail but his brainchild — the Atal Behari Vajpayee Zoo-cum-Safari — has raised hackles among environmental activists.

Proposed to be spread across 350 acres of scrub forest land within the buffer zone (200 metre) of the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary in Bellary district, the project has come as a “rude shock” for ecologists.

Officials in the know told Deccan Herald that the government had already floated the tenders for the project and preliminary work, including digging of borewell, has commenced.

They, however, rue that not all the required approvals have been obtained. “As the area is a reserved forest and numerous trees will be lost, approvals are necessary from the National Wildlife Board and the Ministry of Environment and Forests,” Santosh Martin, Honorary Wildlife Warden of Bellary district, said.

An impact assessment study conducted by a team of Bangalore-based ecologists has revealed shocking facts of the impact the safari will have on the rich flora and fauna of the sanctuary.

The team — comprising M B Krishna, K S Seshadri, M Sunil Kumar, Seshadri Ramaswamy and Ganesh Babu — points out: “…With over half million tourists expected every year, the sanctuary will become a major hub for tourists, commercial activities, vehicular movement, lights, sound, etc, putting huge pressure on the highly fragile ecosystem.”

The study observes that the presence of a zoo nearby could possibly transmit diseases from the local and exotic animals to the wildlife in the sanctuary.

“On a conservative estimate, 45,000 trees will have to be felled to accommodate this artificial Zoo-cum-Safari,” the study mentioned. Besides, several species of fruit-bearing Grewia trees, endemic to this area, are natural food of the sloth bears. The interdependence of endemic trees and the local wildlife will be in danger with the fencing and cutting of trees.

In addition, bears and leopards move freely in this corridor between Billikallu East RF (Daroji Bear Sanctuary) and Billikallu West Reserve Forest (proposed Zoo area), and the Safari blocks this corridor, which will result in fragmentation, genetic inbreeding
and eventual death of wild animals.

Reddy had proposed the project at a site close to Hampi, a popular tourist destination (see image). He had envisaged shifting the Bellary zoo, located on a 30-40 acre land near the Old Trunk Road in Bellary city.

Daroji, with many industries and projects around it, is perhaps the only protected area (PA) in the country with tremendous pressure from all sides .

The habitat is home to critically endangered species of both animals and plants including the pangolins, sloth bears, wolves, leopards, etc, which are classified as Schedule I by the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

This site is also a breeding ground for the Indian eagle owl, brown fish owl and possibly the blue-tailed bee-eater.

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