Op-Ed: Odisha Needs New Tiger Reserves But Challenges Ahead

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The proposal of Odisha and Chhatisgarh to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to notify the Sunabeda wildlife sanctuary as a tiger reserve is a welcome move but the state government needs to move with caution in this regard after its recent experience in Satkosia which is our second tiger reserve after Similipal.

The death of tiger Mahaveer within the sanctuary area a few months ago has brought the inter-state tiger translocation project under a cloud. Yet to recover from the blow the state forest authorities are yet to take a firm decision even on tigress Sundari which like Mahaveer had been brought to Satkosia from Madhya Pradesh in a bid boost tiger population in the sanctuary.

Transporting the animals from Madhya Pradesh itself presented a huge challenge with special care having to be taken of the health of animals during the long journey. There was a lot of anxiety as there is always a possibility of wild animals suffering physically and mentally in the course of translocation.

Of the two tigers brought to Satkosia Sundari’s behaviour was a cause of concern for the authorities right from the beginning. She showed a tendency to stray into human habitations attacking humans. This triggered protests from locals putting the project into jeopardy.

However, the biggest blow to the project was the death of Mahaveer, the male tiger that had been released into the wilds in Satkosia. The carcass of the tiger with a deep neck wound was found in a bush in the sanctuary area. It had obviously fallen into trap laid for animals by poachers. As the noose of the snare tightened around its neck and it struggled to free itself the rope caused a wound in its neck which was believed to be the cause of its death.

The incident made it clear that poachers were active in the sanctuary area and forest officials had not been able to tackle the threat properly. Forests where poachers are active are certainly not the right place for the implementation of such vital projects involving big cats.

Besides the experience also proved that the project had been launched in a hurry without sufficient ground work by state forest officials. For example state authorities had not accounted for resistance to the project from the residents of the area whose opinion had obviously not been sought before its launch.

In all such cases it is important to seek the cooperation of the local people who become stakeholders. The effort should be to ensure peaceful co-existence of humans as well as wild animals allowing both their own space to operate. For example while forests where tigers are released should have the right kind of pre base to keep the animals within their bounds the local populace should not be deprived of its basic right over minor forest produce without interfering with the basic character of the forest.

Such questions may also crop in Sunabeda which is an excellent sanctuary on Odisha-Chhatisgarh border. While authorities should be ready to deal with initial problems once it is declared a tiger reserve they may also have to contend with the threat of Maoists who have been active in the area. If these problems are successfully dealt with the new project, if approved by NTCA, can be a success.

(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.)