Devbrat Patnaik

Bhubaneswar: It’s been long since Royal Bengal Tigress Sundari was shifted to a special rehabilitation enclosure in the wake of a massive public outcry last year and now the forest department has once again begun the process to re-implement the tiger relocation project in Satkosia reserve forests, this time with the able support of local villagers.

Frequent meetings are being organised in Satkosia comprising locals and district administration and reports suggest that officials are creating awareness so that people could understand the behavioural instincts of the wild animals. Subsequently, a report on the future measures will be submitted to National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

Chief Wildlife Warden Harishankar Upadhyay said, “The officials organised a meeting with locals to discuss about the future of Sundari. Based on the findings and reactions, we will submit a report to NTCA, only then we can decide what needs to be done.”

“Our next strategy is to create awareness among the locals on the need to live amicably with the animals. So at first, we need to work on developing a favourable social ecosystem,” he added.

While the forest department is rethinking about initiating measures to expedite tiger relocation project, experts are not in favour of the move. They have opined that Satkosia as a habitat doesn’t provide favourable conditions for increasing the population of the big cat.

“Forest department has overlooked the basic needs of a tiger. So I don’t think going to people will yield desired results. Odisha government should think of developing a model relocated village. If they don’t consider these things while marching ahead, it would be difficult for them to undertake these crucial projects in Satkosia and other reserve forests,” rued Khageswar Nayak, tiger expert.

The local populace however has welcomed the government move. “If they (govt) work in tandem with the locals instead of turning blind eye to the problems, definitely people will welcome the decision,” said Dileswar Pradhan, Satkosia local.

“What forest department officials are doing now, they should have done it much before. Then the killings could have been avoided,” expressed Biraja Jani, local.

Sundari, which was brought from the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh in June 2018 as part of the inter-state tiger translocation project, was released into the Satkosia Tiger Reserve in August the same year. However, allegations of death of two persons and a bullock due to attack by the tigress in Baghamunda and Tainsi villages inside the reserve area sparked protests forcing the Forest department to relocate the big cat back into the special rehabilitation enclosure.

Odisha’s tiger re-location programme received a major blow after MB-2, the other Royal Bengal Tiger translocated from the Kanha Tiger Reserve of Madhya Pradesh died in the Satkosia.

Even as the forest department is keen on re-implementing the project, it remains to be seen whether they are able to develop an ecosystem where locals and big cat Sundari can co-exist peacefully.