Mrunal Manmay Dash

Bhubaneswar: Even when the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has decided to suspend the tiger translocation programme in Satkosia Tiger Reserve over death of translocated tiger (T-1) & Tigress Sundari's uncertain future, the forest department of Odisha continues to be in a denial mode that poachers are on a prowl in the forest belt.

The probe report of NTCA indicated that the death of Royal Bengal Tiger T-1 which was relocated to Satkosia from Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh under India’s first ever Tiger relocation project, was due to poaching.

The forest department however vehemently rejected the then NTCA report and it still stands on its conviction that T-1 died due to multiple organ failure after a wound on his neck caused by consuming a porcupine.

Harishankar Upadhyay, Chief Wildlife Warden said, “Poaching of T-1 has not been established yet. The enquiry of NTCA is still in a preliminary phase. There are other agencies like the Central Empowered Committee which was investigating the case and they have also reiterated the fact that there is no conclusive evidence of poaching.”

However, the wildlife experts including the Secretary of NTCA Experts Committee, Khageswar Nayak opined what was considered to be most obvious. He said, “My personal observation was that T-1 was killed due to injury sustained by a snare trap, which clearly is a case of poaching. I don’t have any doubts in it.”

“Poaching was rampant in those forests under Satkosia reserve. Though it has reduced to some extent, it’s still prevalent in many areas of the reserve,” added Nayak.

As per reports, the areas under Narasinghpur, Athagarh and Athmallik were notorious for poaching. The poachers here use snare traps and small bombs to kill animals like deer and hares. There were reports of elephant and leopard hunting in the area too which the forest department had allegedly chosen to ignore in the past.

Wildlife expert, Vijay Ketan Pattnaik said, “There are a lot of poachers inside the forest. The forest department needs to prepare a proper database of these poachers and gradually sensitise them and aware them.”

Though apprehensions were raised from several quarters regarding the poaching menace in Satkosia reserve forest, experts believe that the wait and watch attitude of the forest department is certainly proving to be counter-productive.

The inhabitants of Satkosia also expressed concerns over the indiscriminate poaching which has reportedly reduced the number of animals in the reserve. Bijay Kumar Jani, a local alleged, “The forest department doesn’t arrest the real poachers. Instead they occasionally arrest innocent locals staying close to the reserve and blame them for poaching.”

In his recent letter to Odisha Chief Secretary, NTCA DIG, Surender Mehra stated that the tiger translocation programme at Satkosia tiger reserve shall be suspended till the ground situation improves as per NTCA guidelines, advisories and subsequent feasibility study by NTCA.