Column: Of Sundari and the Future of Project Tiger

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Sundari, the Royal Bengal tigress who was brought to the Satkosia tiger reserve from the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh under the first-ever inter-state tiger translocation project in the country last year, remains confined to her enclosure after a brief period of independence when she was allowed to roam free in the reserve forests of the sanctuary.

The authorities decided to put her back in the enclosure following protests by villagers in the sanctuary area over attack on humans and animals. With residents of villages dotting Satkosia’s edge still apprehensive about the behaviour of the animal forest officials are finding it hard to take a call on her release into the wild again.

The indecision of the authorities seems to have raised a question mark over the inter-state tiger project that was launched with much fanfare over a year ago. They are trying to create awareness among the local populace on the need to live harmoniously with wild animals and an increase in the population of tigers that are facing a threat.

While the outcome of this campaign remains uncertain what is certain is that the Sundari’s prolonged stay within an enclosure would seriously affect her health and her hunting instincts. And this, in the long run , may make her unfit for life in the wild.

The inter-state tiger relocation project had received a crippling blow when Mahaveer, the other tiger brought to Satkosia from Madhya Pradesh along with Sundari, was found dead within the sanctuary area. The project has presented the state’s wildlife authorities with one of the toughest challenges they have ever faced. Transporting the animals from Madhya Pradesh itself was a test with the special care required to ensure the health of the animals during the long journey.

Once the animals had arrived safely it was important to acclimatize them with their new surroundings. Then came bad news in the form of Sundari’s tendency to stray into human habitations which triggered protests in the villages in and around the sanctuary.

But even that was not as bad as the death of Mahaveer, the male tiger who was the first to be released into the wild in Satkosia. The carcass of the tiger with a deep neck wound was found in a bush in the sanctuary area. It had fallen into a trap laid for animals by poachers. The authorities had obviously not accounted for the presence of poachers in the sanctuary while releasing Mahaveer in its wilds.

The project has since not shown any signs of revival with authorities yet to work out fool-proof plans to win the trust of the locals in Satkosia as they happen to be stakeholders. Efforts have to be made to ensure the peaceful co-existence of humans and wild animals with both being allowed their own spaces to operate.

But this is easier said than done. It will be a challenge for the authorities working on projects to boost the tiger population in the state. Recently there were reports about a joint proposal by Odisha and Chhatisgarh to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to notify the Sunabeda wildlife sanctuary as a tiger reserve. Any such proposal is welcome but given the recent experience in Satkosia officials must move with great caution.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)