BHUBANESWAR: Eight years after it received in-principle approval for Sunabeda Tiger Reserve (TR), the Odisha Government has finalised the project proposal for the tiger habitat which will be its third.
The proposal, submitted by the State Wildlife Wing to the Forest and Environment Department, puts the total notified area of the TR at 1,083.098 sq km. The last big cat enumeration by the State Government had found four tigers and 20 leopards in Sunabeda.
The proposed tiger reserve comprises Sunabeda Wildlife Division at 600 sq km and Khariar Forest Division at 483.098 sq km. Its core area is pegged at 510.461 sq km while the buffer zone is measured at 572.63 sq km. The proposed TR is contiguous to Udanti-Stianadi Tiger Reserve of Chhattisgarh which is an added advantage because it gives the large cats a bigger landscape. The proposal finalisation was a tedious process as the region has remained a hotbed of activity of Left Wing Extremists (LWEs) who operate on both Chhattisgarh and Odisha sides of the border.
In fact, the Centre had accorded the in-principle approval on August 21, 2008 seeking final proposal for the project. The Forest and Environment Department constituted the expert committee in March, 2010 but the panel was formally notified on December 31, 2014. After several visits to Sunabeda and Khariar, the panel met twice in last year and a half and the proposal was expedited. Since human settlements in the core critical area pose a challenge in management and conservation, the TR's boundary has been drawn in a manner that it leaves scope for less human interference in future. The core area of the proposed TR does not comprise any revenue village but has nine 'other settlements'. Other settlements are defined by claims of settlements under Forest Rights Act.
The buffer zone, though, comprises 32 revenue villages, 22 hamlets and 26 other settlements. During boundary demarcation, Sibnarayanpur village, earlier a part of the buffer zone, was left out. Chief Wildlife Warden Sidhanta Das said the final proposal will be reviewed by the State Government before being sent to National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) for approval and notification.
Apart from tiger and leopard, Sunabeda is home to bison, sambhar, spotted as well as barking deer, nilgai and hyena in its faunal population. Similipal was first tiger reserve to be notified in the State followed by Satkosia.