Saturday, September 11, 2010

Dam, canal threaten Orissa's elephants

River Brutanga is a tributary of the Mahanadi on its right bank in Nayagarh district in central Orissa.

A ~500 metre earthen dam has been proposed on the river. The dam will submerge over 1500 ha adjacent to the Baissipalli Wildlife Sanctuary, which is part of the Mahanadi Elephant Reserve and Satkosia Tiger Reserve. Apart from the large reservoir, a 12 km long canal will be dug to link the Brutanga reservoir with the Kuanria reservoir, 9 kms from the town of Daspalla.

Every summer, about 150 elephants migrate from the Mahanadi ER to forests that are part of the South Orissa (proposed) Elephant Reserve and return back to Mahanadi with the coming of the monsoons. Apart from providing the elephants with rich forage over a large area, this migration facilitates a vital genetic exchange between the central Orissa elephant population and the south Orissa elephant population. Elephants have been migrating since time immemorial along the Brutanga valley because it is the only available pass for them to cross over into south Orissa. The extremely hilly and steep terrain of this region makes it impossible for them to cross at any other point.

This narrow but extremely vital corridor will be lost if the reservoir and canal are allowed to come up. Apart from effectively islanding the central Orissan elephants, the implementation of the Brutanga project will lead to a severe escalation in human-elephant conflict in the region, as has been observed in Athgarh, Keonjhar, Dhenkanal and Angul regions after the Rengali canal was dug. When elephants find traditional corridors blocked, they are known to get persistent in finding a way across and the disoriented, frustrated animals often get into rage, damage crops, property and human life. This continues year after year during the migration period. As of now, conflict is minimal in this region and locals have learnt to live with the brief annual presence of these elephants.

There has been a suggestion to build overpasses on the canal, but these have failed in nearby Rengali, as they have elsewhere in India. There is no documented record of overpasses being successful alternatives to elephant corridors. In rare cases, lone bull elephants have been known to use them, but family herds with calves do not attempt to risk crossing over such a strange man made structure.

The Brutanga is a non perennial river. It shall not be wise to build a dam on it as this may cause water shortage in Baissipalli Wildlife Sanctuary. This would harmful to the local riparian forest ecology, the wildlife and even the people of villages like Padmatola.

The most important 'sink' available to the tigers of Satkosia is a massive, compact block of forests spanning several districts in the hills of south-central Orissa. Not only do tigers from Satkosia spill over into these forests, this connectivity is also the only hope for the large ranging, low density population of tigers that still inhabits these unprotected forests. The Satkosia link might be their only escape from a genetic dead end. The tiger too, is under threat from this project.

The works of renowned elephant experts like Dr DK Lahiri Choudhury and Dr CK Sar vindicates these facts and their papers have singularly highlighted the importance of this very vital corridor.

There is no option but to shelve this project if the elephants of Orissa are to be saved. Orissa accounts for nearly 60% of the East/Central Indian elephant population and close to 10% of Orissa's elephants actually physically use this corridor. The corridor genetically links together a population of around 600 elephants- a third of the state's entire elephant population.

It is sad to note that the Mahanadi Wildlife Division has not appropriately documented this migration. This migration would not have come to our knowledge had it not been for the field work carried out by Wild Orissa in 2002 and that by renowned elephant experts like Dr CK Sar and Dr DK Lahiri Choudhury, whose papers have stressed the importance of this corridor. We don't even know about the migration of other long ranging mega-fauna like gaur across this region. We just cannot afford to sign away this corridor.

Apart from shelving this project, the Government of Orissa must also expeditiously take the following steps to protect Orissa’s elephants:

  • Declare this corridor a Critical Wildlife Habitat under provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act and Forest Rights Act.
  • Immediately notify the South Orissa Elephant Reserve and the Brahmani-Baitarani Elephant Reserve
  • Declare the Kapilas Reserved Forest a Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Shelve other proposed irrigation projects and canals, like the one in Manjhor, in and around elephant habitats

Further reference: 'Brutanga Campaign' by Wild Orissa


An article by D.K.Lahiri Choudhury & C.K.Sar in “The Indian Forester” Vol. 128 No. 2, February, 2002 has delved upon the sensitiveness of the afore-mentioned forests.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Letter to the MoEF for interventions in Similipal Tiger Reserve

The Similipal Tiger Reserve is reeling under tremendous odds. Keeping its core issues in view and seeking a constructive revival strategy, I, on behalf of Wild Orissa, among other steps that we are taking for Similipal, wrote to the Ministry of Environment and Forests seeking interventions. A press release to that effect has also been made. Following is a copy of the letter:

Ref. No.: WO/HQRS/SCP/2010

6, July 2010

Shri Jairam Ramesh
Hon’ble Minister of State (Independent Charge)
Ministry of Environment and Forests
Paryavaran Bhavan
New Delhi

Sub: Appeal for interventions into management of the Similipal Tiger Reserve

We are a proactive nature and wildlife conservation group associated in the conservation efforts in Similipal forests in Orissa. It is to state that the extremist onslaught on the Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) in

Orissa last year, has raised a lot of problems for its administration. With its devastated infrastructure and enhanced insecurity atmosphere, the institutional capacity of the STR to protect and enforce the

provisions of our wildlife related statues had taken a beating.
However of late, dedicated efforts by the park administration have resulted in improvements in staff presence inside the STR. This is a crucial improvement from a stage last year when the whole park was

devoid of any staff/personnel for many months. The period after the March-April 2009 attacks saw poachers and timber smugglers having a field day in the reserve.
Similipal has always been facing the brunt of large scale poaching, sometimes referred to as ‘akhand shikar’. This sort of ritualistic hunting is aimed at ungulates and other small animals and birds that are meant

for local consumption and has been tradition in practice for most of the Central Indian tribes. These poachers are known to enter the reserve in bands numbering as high as 300 and attack anything that moves

with arrows, crude guns, etc. We have gathered that over the past few years they have adopted a far more lethal means of poaching i.e. poisoning. Exploiting the weakness of ungulates towards salt, poachers

have been creating artificial saltlicks- shallow beds dug into the earth and filled with salt, rice gruel, etc- and are lacing them with pesticides. Ungulates find this concoction irresistible and fall victim.

Unfortunately, elephants too are succumbing. In such cases, if the poacher happens to chance upon the elephant, he usually makes off with the tusks, however miserably sized they may be. Sometimes,

especially when patrolling is very lax, the poachers are known to make hides near the elephant carcass to shoot wild boar that turn up to scavenge on the carcass. The elephants that have died in Similipal this

year appear to be victims to this sort of poaching. The large proportion of females and calves among the victims suggests that they are victims of such indiscriminate poisoning and most probably not that of

organised commercial ivory poaching.
It is to state that there have been efforts both from the governmental and non-governmental sectors to counter ‘akhand shikar’ during the past years, but somehow success has been eluding.
After considering the present context of the STR, the following issues are being highlighted for priority actions at your end:

1. Inappropriate Administrative set-up: As per the Guidelines of the Project Tiger, now National Tiger Conservation Authority, the jurisdiction of the buffer areas of the tiger reserves are to be vested

with the Field Director. In the case of the STR, as late as last year the Karanjia, Rairangpur and Baripada Forest Division were reporting to the Field Director STR. This enabled the park administration to

provide appropriate focus on the whole tiger reserve. However this has undergone a change with these divisions now reporting to the recently created Regional Chief Conservator of Forests (RCCF) at

Baripada in Mayurbhanj. It has been gathered that in view of the division of work in the Orissa Forest Department between the PCCF (General) and the PCCF (Wildlife), the line hierarchy now being

practiced in the case of the STR is highly detrimental to tiger conservation.
2. Inadequate resources:
a. Manpower: The STR suffers from a chronic staff shortage. Close to 50 per cent of field staff posts, including forest guards and foresters remain vacant. Three posts of Range Officer and a post of

Deputy Director are currently vacant. Further a lot of the forest guards and foresters are close to retirement age after having put in over three decades of service in the reserve without a single promotion. This

is scenario is disastrous for a tiger reserve like Similipal (2750 sq kms), especially considering that this staff is expected to take on armed gangs of poachers numbering in the hundreds on a frequent basis.
b. Finances: It has been gathered that the reserve does not receive adequate funds and funds allocated do not reach the STR administration on time.
c. Infrastructure: The March-April 2009 attacks have caused considerable damage to the park’s infrastructure. Staff is being forced to make do with semi-repaired housing in the absence of basic

facilities and sanitation.
3. Low staff morale: The morale of the reserve’s frontline staff suffered during the armed attacks in 2009. After being physically abused, looted and threatened with murder last year they had

abandoned their posts. It was after many months of dedicated efforts by the park administration that they returned to their posts and taken charge despite a police advisory warning against such a move. The

physically and mentally agonising conditions under which they are made to live and are expected to serve their duties in the remote posts of STR get further aggravated by delayed salaries and lack of

promotions. Several of these staffers have served their entire careers- upto 35 years in many cases- in this reserve and haven’t received a single promotion. To address this there is a vital necessity to

incentivise postings within the tiger reserve’s remote stations. Additional financial allowances, medical support, food and rations support, communications support, etc must be provided to staff serving in STR.

Staff security also needs to be looked into under the current circumstances.
4. Reserve and staff security: To address the need of securing the reserve from mass poaching and extremism and to secure conditions for the staff to work, it is important that the state government

expedites the creation of the Special Tiger Protection Force with funds available with the NTCA. In the time it takes to prepare the force, the state must deploy a paramilitary force around the reserve.
5. Expediting voluntary relocations: The district and park administration has exhibited tremendous competence in the manner in which it managed to carry out the smooth relocation of the largest

village viz. Jenabil from inside the ‘core’ of the STR. This had been pending since the past three decades. It has been learnt two of the three remaining villages have also voluntarily agreed to relocate. The

relocation of the remaining three villages must be expedited by the state by facilitating all necessities required. It is to be mentioned this was the first instance of any relocation having been carried in the state of

Orissa for wildlife conservation.
6. Interdepartmental coordination: The mass poaching and breakdown of the law and order situation in the reserve calls for enhanced coordination between the police, revenue and the forest

7. Poaching: Reports suggested that large congregations of local poachers had a free run immediately after the attacks. Inadequate intelligence gathering has been the root cause in the past too. Unless

checked it will wipe out the prey base and ensure the disappearance of the tiger in Similipal.
8. Encroachment and grazing: Encroachment by villagers, illegal livestock grazing, illegal felling and other such actions resulting from law and order failure need to be arrested by strengthening the park

administration, boosting its administrative and magistrial powers, interdepartmental cooperation, increased backing of staff by senior officers and decentralisation of power in the reserve by enhancing the field

director’s authority.
9. ‘Similipal Appraisal Report’: Following the March-April 2009 attacks on Similipal, the NTCA had sent a team of experts led by Dr Bivash Pandav to appraise it about the ground situation in the

reserve. The team compiled a very exhaustive report and listed very constructive recommendations. However, the state is yet to enact these and there has been little follow up in this matter both from the state

and the centre.
10. Buffer devoid of wildlife: The buffer zone of the reserve has over the past decades deteriorated tremendously, including in the quality of vegetative cover and wildlife occupation. This is purely

because of poor management of the buffer (administered by three Territorial Divisions of the Forest Department viz. Baripada, Rairangpur and Karanjia) from the wildlife conservation perspective. Stringent

protection measures need to be put in place and these divisions should ideally be converted into Wildlife Divisions and placed under the charge of the Field Director STR.

The Similipal Tiger Reserve needs to be revived back to its former glory. It is one of the largest and richest tracts of tiger habitat anywhere in the world and has the potential to sustain one of the single largest

tiger and elephant populations in India. It is requested to intervene in this matter and issue necessary instructions on the issues stated above.

Yours faithfully,

Program Head
Similipal Conservation Program
Wild Orissa

Copy submitted for information and necessary action:-
1. Chief Minister Orissa, Bhubaneswar
2. Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, Delhi
3. Chief Secretary, Government of Orissa, Bhubaneswar
4. Director General of Forests Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, Delhi
5. Additional Director General, Wildlife Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, Delhi
6. Member Secretary National Tiger Conservation Authority Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, Delhi
7. Director General of Police Orissa, Cuttack
8. Secretary, Department of Forests Government of Orissa, Bhubaneswar
9. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (General), Orissa, Bhubaneswar
10. Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Orissa, Bhubaneswar

Program Head
Similipal Conservation Program
Wild Orissa

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tigerlink, April 2010

For extensive tiger related news from across India and the world please go through the April 2010 issue of Tigerlink here:

Front Cover:
Inside Cover:
Tigerlink Magazine:

Tigerlink is published by the Ranthambhore Foundation and is edited by Prerna Singh Bindra and me.


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Concerns for Satkosia Tiger Reserve as tusker poaching resurfaces

The poaching of a tusker in the Narsinghpur forest under Aathgarh Division adjoining the Satkosia Tiger Reserve’s eastern boundary and the seizure of tusks from Rairakhol, also in the vicinity of the reserve, in February, have raised concerns.

Narsinghpur range has been a notorious stronghold of a highly organised poaching and timber mafia. There have been repeated appeals to transfer the administration of the Narsinghpur (West) Range from the territorial division of the forest department to the Satkosia Wildlife Division in order to facilitate wildlife oriented administration of the forest and help in containing poaching. Similalrly, on the western boundary of the reserve, Aathmallik serves as a base for organised wildlife crime syndicates.

On 23rd April the carcass of a male elephant was found in the Hathidhara Reserved Forest near Aathmallik- the third reported case of elephant poaching in the vicinity of Satkosia in just the first four months of 2010.

Wild Orissa, an organisation which was instrumental in getting Satkosia declared a tiger reserve, has since the beginning of its campaign been recommending the inclusion of the Narsinghpur range and the Hathidhara Reserved Forest of the Aathmallik division as part of the tiger reserve, but to little avail.

These rich reserved forests form a contiguous habitat with the tiger reserve and frequently report tiger presence. There is an urgent need to merge these ranges with the reserve and increase its area.

Wild Orissa had suggested that the core area of Satkosia be expanded to at least 800-1000 sq kms from its current area of about 600 sq kms by adding parts of the buffer and the said reserved forests. There is also an urgent necessity to relocate villages from prime wildlife areas like Tulka, Labangi, Chotkei, Majhipada, Raigoda, etc. in order to reclaim the valleys of the reserve for wildlife. Almost all valleys in the reserve have been encroached upon for agriculture, resulting in the vanishing of meadows, which are essential to support much needed prey base to help tigers make a comeback in Satkosia. Cattle from these villages graze the remaining fodder, competing directly with wild prey.

Raigoda, incidentally, has since long sent in petitions to voluntarily relocate, but action is yet to be taken on this front. There are 65 villages in the 963 sq km Satkosia Tiger Reserve, four of which lie in its core and many more are situated on the boundary of the core, putting tremendous pressure on its low density tiger population that is struggling to revive.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Resurrection of Similipal?

News has come in that the largest village in the core area of Similipal Tiger Reserve, Jenabil, shifted out of the reserve voluntarily on 9th March 2010.

61 families shifted out from Jenabil in Similipal's core area to the 'model village' created for them at Ambdiha, outside the reserve. Keeping with the NTCA's guidelines, every male over the age of 18 was considered a single family unit and was compensated with Rs. 10 lakhs, apart from being provided accommodation, land, access to health facilities, education (the Forest Dept. itself has admitted 33 kids into school), and above all, a better life- far from conflict with wildlife and one that is part of the fast developing India you and I enjoy the benefits of. Hopefully, the three remaining villages and two remaining Khadia hamlets in the core, and perhaps even the villages in buffer, will want to move out of this remote wilderness and get themselves a new lease of life.

Meanwhile, it certainly is a brand new lease of life for Similipal's wildlife! The huge valley which Jenabil had encroached upon will soon heal back into perhaps Similipal's most expansive meadow and chital, sambar, gaur and other herbivores will thrive there. The magnificent congregations of elephants and unbelievably large herds of sambar deer that one saw in meadows like Devasthali and Upper Barhakamuda, especially prior to the March '09 attacks on the reserve, will hopefully be back. Needless to say, Jenabil will soon turn into prime real estate for Similipal's tigers!

The credit of this achievement goes out almost entirely to the strong dedication of Similipal's field staff. The leadership of a determined Field Director, HS Upadhyay, his ex-deputy, Manoj Nair, and their insufficient, ill-equipped, underpaid, overworked, unsung yet, terrifically motivated team of staff, like range officers Prabir Palei (RBS-Sanctuary Wildlife Service Award, 2009), B Mohanty and the other foresters, guards, etc. have been instrumental in getting Similipal back on its feet, despite unbelievable odds and a genuine threat to their life from left wing extremists. The district collector and SP must also be credited for facilitating the entire process and providing the necessary security as the staff rebuild damage infrastructure, re-occupy beat houses and get back to patrolling.

This is the sort of dedication we need to protect India's wildernesses. Similipal has been brought back from what was surely a death knell. Our fears, a year ago to date, that Similipal might be lost like Indravati or Palamau have thankfully been proven wrong. One hopes and prays that those reserves too unergo such revival.

I, for one, can't wait to get back into Similipal! Will do so at the earliest and bring you a first hand report.



Charred remains of the century old, double storied wooden FRH cum Deputy Director's camp office, Jenabil, Similipal Tiger Reserve

Remains of the Upper Barhakamuda Range Office, Similipal Tiger Reserve

Staff of Upper Barhakamuda regaining control of their range and discussing strategies post the March 2009 attack by left wing extremists. At the time of the picture, there was no wireless connectivity for them and nearest 'civilisation' is 3 hrs' drive away, much longer on bicycle or foot!