Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tiger lands under Red shadow

First Published : 25 Jun 2009 12:29:55 PM ISTLast Updated :

BHUBANESWAR: The Left wing extremists have done it again. With the State Government focussed on combatting them elsewhere, the Red rebels have targeted another wildlife sanctuary, also a tiger habitat, without facing any resistance whatsoever. After Similipal Tiger Reserve, the attack at Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary has come as a grave concern since the Forest Department is in no position to take on the radicals. The authorities at Sunabeda are yet to ascertain whereabouts of a watchman seen “accompanying” the attackers. Was he an accomplice planted at the place by the Maoists or was he a victim? There are no answers yet. Sources said, the Conservator of Forests has been asked to submit a detailed report on the incident to the office of PCCF.

While it is certain that Maoist movement was recorded in the protected area, contiguous to Chhattisgarh through the Udanti and Sitanadi Sanctuary, there was little police could do to prevent their access through the terrains which are extremely difficult.

The biggest issue that confronts the State Government is conservation of the wildlife since Sunabeda is one of the better tiger habitats in the State and is on the pipeline for a tiger reserve status after Similipal and Satkosia.

While conservation status of tigers and other wildlife in Similipal is under cloud after the series of attacks in February and March, experts believe the same could happen to Sunabeda.

“After the Special Operation Group pulled out from Similipal, the posts are lying vacant with field staff not manning their positions due to fear of Naxals. It’s not possible and advisable for the security forces to remain deployed in the tiger reserve as it is not their mandate. Besides, it would be a blunder strategically too,’’ said a senior Forest Department official.

At present, even the Wildlife Wing has no clue on the poaching and hunting status in Similipal given the area size and absence of surveillance. Many believe that the Maoist attacks were carried out with the help of tribals who for the last three to four years were prevented from doing their ritualistic “akhand shikar.”

“It was a reprisal against the enforcement and an act of protest against the issues of displacement. Now that the security forces are out of the park and forest staff unwilling to venture deep into the territory, poachers may well be having a field day which can neither be confirmed nor denied by Forest Department,’’ said the sources.

Besides, Similipal is facing serious shortage of staff. Of three ACF posts, two were vacant while the only officer in posting is slated for retirement. The state of affairs of field staff is equally precarious but the Government is indifferent to the situation.

The worrying factor is what happened in Similipal may well be replaying all over in Sunabeda.

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