Trouble Time: Tigers’ threnody and tizzy in Odisha
Development News Ground Zero Special Report by Bibhuti Pati
Tigers tacitly tell a tale of theirs taciturn and tantrum. Odisha Forest Department’s wildlife and tiger conservation is a travesty and tall-story. Tiger conversations in Odisha are only thoughtless and thriftless. Odisha wildlife and forest officials’ torpidity and thug are threats for tigers and it gives thump and throe to the timorous tigers. When the tiger territories and trails are turbulent at the same time tigers are thralldom and trifle in the conservation turmoil. Some wildlife conservationists say, “In Odisha, tiger conversations’ timpani and toot is only twaddle, the recent story of Satkoshia’s Sundari and the death of tiger in Debrigarh’s sanctuary is a clear evident.” NTCA or Odisha Forest Officials- Who will give tittupp to the tigers and the titular to the tiger territories?
It is controversy time for tiger conservation efforts in Odisha. While the high profile project on relocation of tigers in Satkoshia Tiger Reserve is in the eye of the storm for all the wrong reasons, death of tigers in different forests in Odisha has put a bold question mark on the sincerity of the Odisha Forest Department for conservation of tigers. On one hand efforts are being made to relocate six tigers in Satkoshia reserve forest at a whooping cost of Rs 24 crores, the State is not capable of protecting the naturally existing tigers in different forests of Odisha. At the same time there are gaping holes in the relocation of the tigers project, that has put the tigress Sundari and the lives of people in more than hundred villages at risk. Is conservation the driving motive for relocation, or there are other commercial interests attached to it is what is being asked now.
Recently a highly putrefied carcass of a tiger of Debrigarh wildlife sanctuary was found in Damodarapada forest in Bhatli block of Bargarh district that comes under Bargarh Forest Division. From the circumstantial evidences it has been observed by the local forest officials that the tiger has been killed for the skin and nails, 10-12 days back. The body of the tiger was hidden under the soil. Tiger nails and blood soaked baskets were recovered from the spot.
While the question, ‘how the tiger came out of the sanctuary’ was still to be answered, the local forest officers were quick to conclude that the carcass seems to be that of a leopard. The Forest and Environment Minister Bijayashree Routray declared that the carcass was that of a leopard. But the PCCF (Wildlife) had a more nuanced assessment. “From the preliminary assessment it seems to be a leopard. For further investigations, the samples have been sent to the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradoon and everything will be clear once we receive the report.”
From the remnants of the carcass it still can be observed that it is that of a Royal Bengal Tiger as there are white patched above the eyes that is typically found in case of the RBTs. Rather the forest department is busy establishing it as a leopard and putting the final identification by WII to a later date. It is deplorable.”
Finally, Forest Department has arrested three persons Susil Bhoi, Tahasil Bhoi and Satya Pradhan and sized other parts of the Royal Bengal Tiger’s (RBT) body including leg and paws, in connection with recovery of decomposed carcass of a RBT inside the forest in Debrigarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Odisha’s Bargarh district on October 29, 2018. The arrested persons have accepted that they have poached RBT and they had gone to hunt wild boar through 11KV live electricity wire.
This was informed to the media by Bargarh Additional Conservator of Forest (ACF) Madanlal Sharma. The Chief Conservator of Forest (WILDLIFE) O.P. Singh clearly said that it is a RBT poaching case and no need of further investigation or examination of the carcass of tiger. Although the forest officials are always propagating, Odisha has no tiger poaching but now it is clear and proved that Odisha has tiger poaching.
From the very first day Wildlife expert and conservationists Dr. Biswajit Mohanty claimed that it was a RBT poaching case and not leopard. But the forest officials and Forest Minister Mr. Routray have never accepted his words and misguided everyone. It is deplorable that the forest department could not know about the death of a big cat for so long, leading to decomposition of the carcass to the extent that it could not be identified instantly. It clearly indicated that the patrolling of the forests is not being done regularly. The forest officials and the staff are not performing their duties properly and endangering the lives of the wildlife. That area is notorious for herbivore poaching by live wire trap. The DFO and the Range Officer should be suspended for negligence. Due to rampant corruption in forest department patrolling funds are siphoned off leading to such deplorable outcomes. Wildlife experts in the state have condemned such efforts by the forest department to hush up the matter.
Biswajit Mohanty says, “It is shameful that forest department could not protect the only tiger in Debrigad forest. The Forest Minister Mr Routray, as a responsible citizen the way he deceived the public and his dishonesty and injudiciousness to the State and country is not at all excusable. Wildlife has suffered immensely under his term so he should resign immediately.”
It may be noted here that the carcass recovered from the jungle was initially suspected to be of a RBT. Villagers, tiger conservationists and experts said and demanded that the animal was killed by some poachers or timber mafia who buried the carcass inside the deep forest after extracting its teeth and nails, was a RBT. But the matter of concern is Odisha Forest Minister Bijayashree Routray was continuously denied about the RBT poaching and said it is not RBT, it is a leopard. On 1st November 2018, Bargarh DFO had suspended Kamagan forester Parsuram Behera and Hajurigarh forest guard Pravasini Mahananda for dereliction of duty.
Now the question is what about the senior forest officials, who misguided the Forest Minister and repeatedly told lies to the public about the RBT poaching? Since beginning the Senior Forest Officials and Minister Bijayashree Routray refused straightly that it was not the RBT, it was leopard poaching. Although as per the wildlife law the punishment and responsibilities of forest officials are same for the leopard and RBT poaching.
Former PCCF (Wildlife) Bijay Ketan Pattnaik has put this controversy to rest by saying, “Whether it is a RBT or a Leopard, the final word is that wildlife – a big cat has died. For both the cases the punishment is the same as per the law. Those responsible should be brought to book”
In the meantime the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has sought a report on the death of the tiger from the state government. It also has instructed the State Forest department to follow the standard operating procedure (SOP) for disposal of the tiger/leopard carcass or body parts.
It is really a trouble time for the tigers and tiger territory. Now come to the story and controversy issues of tigress Sundari.
Under a project, first of its kind in India, jointly implemented by Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) Dehradun six tigers from across Madhya Pradesh are to be relocated in Satkoshia Tiger Reserve in Odisha. First one was a three year old tiger from Kanha Reserve. This was followed by the release of a 27 month old tigress Sundari into the forests of Satkoshia. While Kanha, the tiger, went inside the forests, Sundari started moving nearer to the human habitations, killing domestic animals and within a month’s span two human beings. After this the peaceful forests of Satkoshia was on fire.
Local people were up in arms against the tigress Sundari, demanding for withdrawal of the tigress for the security to their lives. Even there was demand to declare Sundari a man eater. Now the district administration, local political parties want the tigress to be removed. Even the state Forest and Environment Minister Bijayashree Routray has declared that after being tranquilized, Sundari will be brought to Nandan Kanan Zoological Park.
Since more than a week, the experts from Odisha University of Agricultural Technology (OUAT), Similipal National Park and Nandan Kanan Zoological Park have been trying in vain to tranquilize Sundari. Now two tranquilizing experts from Madhya Pradesh have been pressed into service. Even though there is no success in tranquilizing the tigress, the poor level of preparedness of the OFD for the much hyped relocation project has been exposed.
Dr. Biswajit Mohanty says, “I am shocked to hear that the Relocated tigress from Bandhavgarh shall be locked up in Nandan Kanan Zoo. We demand its return to MP where it had a free wild living before being captured and released in Satkosia TR”
After the failure of the six tranquilizing experts in taming Sundari, two experts from Madhya Pradesh Sandeep Agrawal and Akhilesh Mishra have been pressed into service. But these experts were shocked after seeing the arrangements for tranquilization at Satkoshia. The tranquillizing guns and the tranquilizer chemicals available here are not at all reliable. The quality of the tranquilizer chemicals is not at par with the quality that is required. These also have not been properly stored. Whether these chemicals will be effective or not one cannot be sure of. The allegations that the tranquilizers were not provided by the forest department, the experts themselves have procured the same from private sources is still more shocking. So, there is no assurance on the effectiveness of the tranquilizers.
As per the experts, for the process of tranquilization, a rescue van is to accompany the team. And this rescue van should be equipped with stretcher, oxygen and other life saving equipment along with equipment for the security of the team in case of any eventuality. The tranquilizing team that was working earlier was not accompanied by any such vehicle. Only a stretcher was being kept in the back of the SUV they were travelling with. Without a pair of trained elephants, tranquilization of the tigress could not be done, as it might pose threat to the life of the tiger as well as the tranquilizing team. But, till date neither the elephants have been made available nor quality tranquilizing substances have been procured.
The failed effort for tranquilization has exposed the poor level of preparations or no preparation at all by the Odisha Forest Department for the implementation of this high profile tiger relocation project. It has exposed how ill prepared the OFD was for not only tranquilization but also for the other aspects of implementation. It has been said by one of the experts on the condition of anonymity that release of the tigers to the wild without doing proper preparations and taking safety measures for the community is treachery with the population living within Satkoshia. There should have been systematic awareness building amongst the villagers before the release of the tigers.
But on the other hand the forest department and the ruling dispensation are blaming the local villagers for making the situation so tense. Forest department offices were vandalized and burnt and the traffic on the NH was stalled for long, the Police officials also were attacked that has deteriorated the situation. But, those in the know of the ground reality blame it on the inadequate handling of the situation by the forest department and the instigation by the timber mafia.
Agneya Misha, a forest and wildlife Guide has said, “Fear for their lives and livelihoods has agitated the local villagers. But, at the same time the timber mafia is working overtime to fan the fire. Their interest, they will be able to continue their loot of the forest in the absence of the tigers. With the tigers in the forests, which too one charged with two human killings, they will find it difficult to smuggle valuable teak and other valuable timber as the labourers will not work under the threat to their life. And the local villagers who have a nexus with the timber mafia as well as some officials of the FD also have a stake in this. With the support of timber mafias and tiger poachers one day the villagers will definitely kill the tigers because the state forest officials are not sincerely doing their duties and there is an unholy nexus with some forest officials with these mafias group. In Odisha wildlife patrolling and watching is very poor, recent suicidal death of seven elephants and one tiger poaching are the big example of it. This recent tiger poaching proved that tiger poaching is in Odisha.”
But, now the villagers like Biren Dehury of Purunakot, residing within Satkoshia reserve, squarely blames the forest department for such a situation. He has alleged that the forest department does not want the villages within the forests. This is more so after the Forest Rights Act, as it is apprehensive that the villagers may demand for individual as well community rights. So in its desperation to drive away the people, it is using the tigers. If the FD wanted peaceful co-existence of the wildlife and the people, it would have made elaborate arrangements for it. Rather than doing this the FD and the government tried to push up the first death of women by the tigress. The government is not at all sensitive towards the people residing inside the Satkoshia.
These allegations and counter allegations apart, there is no doubt that the life of people living within and around Satkoshia has been endangered. Along with them the life of Sundari, the 27 months old cub, also has been threatened. All this happened due to poor planning and faulty implementation of the project. It is said that the state government has been planning for relocation of the tigers in Satkoshia reserve since last three years. But on the ground, no such effort is visible. Neither the communities have been prepared and secured nor was the selection of the tiger done judiciously.
Before releasing the tigress Sundari, the sanctuary authorities of Bandhavgarh and the Forest Department of MP had shared about the behavior of Sundari with the Forest Department of Odisha. They had categorically mentioned that Sundari likes to move in the buffer zone to be seen by the tourists. It does not move away from the tourists. Sometimes it also gets closer to the human habitations. The authorities there also had given tips about the management of Sundari. They had advised the forest authorities of Odisha that a 20 member team should be formed to guard the tigress. They will set up temporary camps in the forest and regularly track the movement of the tigress and accordingly inform the people in the nearly habitations. When the tigress comes in the range of two kms from the villages, the villagers should be warned and efforts should be made to drive tigress away into the forest. The MP authorities also had informed Odisha FD to get two elephants in place so that in case of need they could be used. But the forest department has done next to nothing in this regard. Though a team has been formed for monitoring of the movement of the tigress, they are neither properly equipped, nor are technically sound. Even the radio collar information is not made available to them. Even the forest guards did not have proper shoes and were using chappals and were scared of the tigress, the experts rued.
And still, the administration and the concerned ministers continue with their lackadaisical approach. The Forest and Environment Minister Bijayshree Routray had said earlier that after tranquilization Sundari will be shifted to Nandan Kanan zoological park, oblivious of the fact that as per the norms a wild animal cannot be captivated. May be later on being briefed about this aspect, he warned (as if Sundari cares a hoot to it) that if Sundari does not behave properly she will be sent back to Bandhavgarh. The concern is that this policy maker has not been sensitive and careful in his reactions and public posturing. Immediately after a woman was killed by Sundari, he had retorted that the women has not been killed by the tigress, may be by any other animal that instigated the people. And his insensitivity cuts across the geographical and species barrier. Here the death caused by tigers is hushed up, and Royal Bengal Tigers are converted to Leopards with ease.
The tigers in the state of Odisha are not safe. It is not the isolated case of the tiger in Debrigarh, even in Satkoshia too ten tigers are yet to be accounted for (based on the tiger census). Most of them have been killed by the hunters as per the forest officials of the state. Again the state government has failed to get the final notification for Similipal Tiger Reserve, despite it being the first one and the one being better experienced and better equipped. Here too human settlement within the reserve seems to the stumbling block. In this back drop, relocation of tigers in Satkoshia without adequate ground work at best could be called an ill conceived and badly implemented plan. And this is compounded with the insensitivity of the officials and the policy makers. Presently Sundari does not know where she is heading for? To special enclosure at Raigad, to Nandan Kanan, to her birth place Bandhavgarh or death? Similar is the fate of the villagers within the Satkoshia sanctuary. They cannot live in their homes in the villages as the police are looking for them to arrest them for their venting out anger and vandalizing. They cannot even go to the forests, their second home, as the tigress is on the prowl – a real Hobsonian choice. The victor and the vanquished have the same fate, though it is yet to be ascertained who is what. A lose-lose game?