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.