Op-Ed: The Challenge of Saving Odisha’s Widlife

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Wildlife management is not an easy job. The risks involved are evident from the fate of the much talked about inter-state tiger relocation project which has been practically on the hold following the death of three-year-old male tiger, Mahavir that was brought to the state from Madhya Pradesh and released in the Satkosia tiger reserve in Angul district. The project is aimed at boosting tiger population in the state, especially in the Satkosia region.

The carcass of the tiger that had been shifted to Satkosia from MP’s Kanha national park was found last November in a bush, 500 metres from the Raigoda-Nuagada forest road, part of Athgarh forest division. Mahavir had fallen into a snare laid for catching wild animals. The incident came close on the heels of recovery of a tiger carcass from Debrigarh wildlife sanctuary in Bargarh district. Three poachers arrested in connection with the incident had confessed to their crime.

Elephants have been the worst victims of poaching and electrocution, both deliberate and accidental, in Odisha. Last October seven elephants including a tusker, five females and a calf were electrocuted after coming in contact with a low hanging live wire near Kamalanga village in Dhenkanal district in one of the biggest wildlife tragedies witnessed in the state.

The 11-KV line drawn for the construction of a railway bridge at Kamlanga, about 5 kms from National Highway 55, was hanging as low as just six feet from ground level though the mandatory height of such wires in areas where elephant movement is reported should be 17 feet above the ground.

The jumbos that perished while trying to cross a water channel at Kamalanga that falls under the Dhenkanal Sadar range were part of a 21-strong herd. Villagers spotted their carcasses in the water channel. The temporary power lines had been laid with the permission of the energy department.

Odisha which had 1976 elephants when the last census was conducted in 2017 has been reporting cases of jumbo deaths due to electrocution with alarming frequency. Dhenkanal district itself had reported the death of three elephants including two females in June, 2017. Part of a bigger herd the animals had come in contract with high tension wires in Borpada forest on the outskirts of Dhenkanal town.

Statistics show that at least 168 elephants have been electrocuted in the state in the last 18 years, the toll being the highest in 2010-11 when 18 were killed. Significantly half of these were cases of deliberate electrocution implying that either poachers or vengeful villagers, whose crops had been destroyed by the pachyderms, wilfully pulled down live wires to make them fall in the path of the passing herds.

This makes the task of authorities all the more difficult. The real challenge is to ensure proper coordination between various stakeholder departments. For example unless the energy department works in sync with the forest and environment department with regular exchange of information between them it would be difficult to save elephants from the killing wires.

(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.)