Op-Ed: Wildlife Habitats Need Security

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Lack of security has made some prominent wildlife sanctuaries of the state vulnerable to poaching and left wing violence. This is bound to take a toll on their appeal as tourist destinations.

The Similipal national park, which happens to be state’s first tiger reserve, was one of the first to witness left wing violence. Poachers have also been active in this enchanting wildlife habitat spread over 2750 sq kms. The sanctuary became a target of Maoist rebels in 2009 who destroyed tourist rest houses and other facilities inside the reserve.

The sanctuary had to be closed to the tourists for over a year following the attacks which made even the forest officials feel insecure. Though Similipal remains as bewitching as ever with its lush green forests, streams and an amazing variety of wildlife, such attacks could make tourists have second thoughts about their plans to visit the park located in Mayurbhanj district.

The reserve forests of Similipal have also been notorious for poaching with several elephant killings reported from the area in the past. In one case, the bones of some of the elephants killed by the poachers were found buried in the forests.

Similipal, incidentally, is perhaps the only wildlife habitat of the stated which witnesses an organised assault on its wildlife by the local tribals during the months of April and May. Called Akhand Shikar or mass hunt, it is said to be part of a tribal ritual which gives them the liberty to hunt. Though the authorities have succeeded in containing the slaughter of wild animals during this period to a great extent following stepped up vigil and an intensive awareness campaign, the tradition continues.

Unfortunately for Similipal, security in and around the sanctuary is beefed up only during the Akhand Shikar. For the better part of the year, however, it remains extremely vulnerable to poachers who, more often than not, go unpunished.

Security also remains a major concern in the Sunabeda wildlife sanctuary in Nuapada district bordering Chhatisgarh. Maoist footprints in the area have been increasing since 2011 when the rebels gunned down 10 Chhatisgarh policemen including an additional SP within the sanctuary. The police party was ambushed while returning from a combing operation.

Speculation is rife that radicals have been trying to cut a corridor through the sanctuary connecting Chhatisgarh. If they succeed it will become much more easy for them to operate in western Odisha districts such as Nuapada, Kalahandi and Bolangir apart from the bordering areas of Chhatisgarh. With rebels intensifying their activities not only tourists even forest officials will be wary of venturing into the sanctuary.

Security is now also a mounting concern in some other forested areas of the state which could be developed into tourist destinations given their bounteous natural beauty. Considering that the state government is keen on promoting tourism to augment its revenue it should take expeditious steps to ensure proper security in wildlife sanctuaries and nature habitats likely to attract tourists. The sooner this happens the better.

(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.)