Op-Ed: Poaching of RBT in Debrigarh makes ‘Sundari’s stay in Satkosia untenable

The virtual confirmation on Sunday that the tiger killed by poachers in the Debrigarh forests in Bargarh district was a Royal Bengal Tiger (RBT) – and not a leopard, as the Forest minister and the PCCF (Wildlife) had sought to pass it off as – raises the inevitable question: why is the Forest department so hung up on ‘translocating’ tigers from outside Odisha to the Satkosia tiger reserve when it can’t save the ones that the state already has? To put it bluntly, the killing of the RBT in Debrigarh makes any further stay of ‘Sundari’ untenable in Satkosia.

There are other equally pertinent questions that no one in the Forest department appears willing to answer. If increasing the tiger population in Satkosia is such a priority, why was the tiger that managed to slip out of the reserve right under the nose of field level officials and land in Nandan Kanan in 2013 kept in confinement in the zoo – and that too in wanton disregard of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) order – instead of being ‘relocated’ to Satkosia? Is it because translocation from one place in the state to another does not earn the same mileage for the Forest department that the ‘first-ever inter-state translocation of tigers in India’ does?

Now that she has literally ‘tasted blood’, there is every possibility of tigress ‘Sundari’ having turned a man-eater. But even after she has killed two humans and several cattle, the department is still waiting for the storm over the killings to die down and looking for ways to keep her in Satkosia instead of considering ‘translocating’ her back to where she came from. Can the department, which is finding it tough to track her movements, give a guarantee that she won’t kill more humans and cattle? Is it waiting for the situation to get to a stage where it has to requisition the services of Hyderabad based hunter Shafat Ali Khan to kill ‘Sundari,’ as was done by the Maharastra forest department to kill Tigress ‘Avni’?

Forget the ‘translocation’ fiasco. Forest department mandarins must first answer this question: how did the population of tigers in Satkosia, 12 when it was declared a tiger reserve in 2007, dwindle to just one in the first place? Counting out the one that slipped out to Nandan Kanan, where did the rest 10 vanish when the department has no record of any poaching or natural death during the period?

The killing of an RBT in Debrigarh also raises its own set of questions. How come the carcass of the tiger was first spotted by Subhendu Mallick, honorary wildlife warden of the Khurda Wildlife Division and not forest department officials in Bargarh? Why was there an attempt by the Forest minister and the PCCF (Wildlife) to mislead the people by claiming that it was a leopard and not an RBT, even before the post mortem had been conducted or the body samples were sent to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for confirmation? [It is noteworthy that there was a similar attempt to obfuscate the issue when ‘Sundari’ killed a woman in Hatibari village on September 12 by claiming that the woman might have been killed by some ‘wild animal’ in a desperate bid to ‘prove’ that she was not killed by the tigress.] Why does the buck always stop at the level of foresters and forest guards, who are expected to fight poachers armed with guns with nothing more lethal than lathis? Why not the DFO? Or even officials higher up?

Years ago, I remember getting startled – and shocked – at the assertion of a wildlife expert, a retired top Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer, at a seminar on wildlife that the ‘best way’ to save forests and wildlife is to disband the Forest department altogether! It is only now that I am beginning to understand the import of what he said.

Man-animal conflict is as old as human civilization. The idea behind creating the Forest department was to minimize the conflict; to ensure that the forests are preserved and wild animals don’t stray into human habitations in search of food. But far from coming down, man-animal conflict has only risen phenomenally over the years. In spite of having the best of technology, equipment and knowhow, the Forest department has failed to save either wildlife or humans. If anything, the toll – both human and animals – has only gone up.

If this is they the case, we can actually consider the option suggested by the expert seriously and leave both humans and wild animals to their fate!

(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)

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