BARIPADA: Despite the availability of vast forests, the rampant poaching of prey base and tigers has taken a heavy toll on the prized feline population in Odisha. The tiger population has remained static at 28 in the last four years.
While the all India results of 2,967 tigers in 2018 compared with 2,226 tigers in 2014 have brought cheer to tiger lovers, the Odisha count remaining static at 28 has become a cause of grave concern as the coastal state has not been able to add a single tiger in four years.
Questions are being raised on what happened to the new born tigers who are more than 1 year old since the census ignores tiger cubs less than a year old as their survival is uncertain.
In 2002, Odisha had reported 192 wild tigers including 60 cubs. Excluding the cubs to bring parity with the current count of 2018, there were 132 tigers which has now fallen to only 28. Thus in 16 years, Odisha lost 104 adult tigers despite the fact that at least Rs 60 crore has been spent on their protection and management.
The state should have added at least 12 to 15 tigers during the last four years. The absence of any such addition suggests that rampant poaching has taken a heavy toll on the tiger population in Odisha, said the secretary of Wildlife Society of Odisha, Biswajit Mohanty.
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While the Simlipal Tiger Reserve near Baripada is the main source of the state’s tiger presence, reserve forest in Satkosia and Sunabeda have negligible tiger population.
Expressing concern over the state’s static tiger population, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) Member Secretary Anup Nayak said, “Source areas need to be protected and the state has a major role to play to increase the tiger population.”
Asked what could be the reason for unchanging numbers, Nayak said, “Poaching is definitely a threat. Enforcement needs to be strengthened at the main source area of Simlipal to prevent poaching.”
“We tried to revive Satkosia forest as a tiger habitat, however, it did not click as the prey area is low in Satkosia. The Sunabeda forest is also not very promising yet. The focus area is Simplipal where 95% of tiger population is located,” he added.
The All India Tiger census results of 2018 was released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month after the periodic count undertaken throughout the country by NTCA in collaboration with state forest departments and NGOs. The camera capture recapture method was used for the count which is the latest available scientific method.
Nayak said Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka have witnessed significant rise in tiger population. Only Chattisgarh and Mizoram have reported a decline in tiger numbers.
“Odisha is the only state that has reported constant figures revealing failure of tiger protection,” said Belinda Wright, Executive Director of Wildlife Protection of Society of India.
Since tigers are good breeders provided there is sufficient prey base and protection from poaching, the state could have easily increased the number according to wildlife experts.
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Seeking an active role of forest department, Wright said, “Poachers are taking advantage of missing protection. The support of local residents is also crucial for survival of tigers in the core areas. Concerned authorities in the Simlipal forest need to do a lot to achieve the desired result.”
Simlipal Tiger Reserve lost 75 wild tigers as per the state government census figures of 2006 and 2016. Similarly, Satkosia Tiger Reserve has only one wild tiger now. Out of the two relocated tigers, one was killed last year by poachers while one has been caged due to conflict with local villagers.
However, the Field Director of Simlipal Tiger Reserve, A Brahma maintains that it is normal for the tiger population to remain static and is hopeful of rising numbers in the future. “We have stopped poaching that is why the numbers are not declining and it is static. The numbers will grow in due course,” Brahma said.
“I am here for the last three months and have sighted leopards only. I have not sighted any tiger yet as the Simlipal forest is a difficult terrain,” the Field Director said, adding that there is no shortage of prey as the forest has adequate number of deer and sambar.
However, experts have a different opinion and maintain that the forest department has miserably failed to control poaching in Simlipal and tigers suffer from a severe lack of food. As poaching is uncontrolled they are also targeted for their bones, claws, skin and whiskers by professional poachers in Odisha.
Besides, Odisha does not have a wildlife management plan yet and unless accountability is fixed the situation is unlikely to improve.