Last Tuesday, India’s first-ever inter-state tiger translocation programme officially went kaput. Of the big cat pair brought from Madhya Pradesh in 2018, the female Sundari was tranquilised, caged, and sent back home. The male had ended up in a snare two years ago in Satkosia, one of Odisha’s two notified tiger reserves. After the National Tiger Conservation Authority officially suspended the much-hyped project in 2019, the Madhya Pradesh HC had directed that the tigress be brought back and rewilded. As things stand now, Sundari has been released into a large enclosure in Ghorela in Kanha National Park.
The pair had been brought in to help repopulate tigers in Satkosia, where the feline population had crashed just about a decade after it was notified as a tiger reserve. Such was the lack of interest in wildlife conservation that Odisha’s government back then did not even bother to find out the reasons behind Satkosia losing its tigers at an alarming pace. Things have not changed much. For a tiger repopulation project of such magnitude, there was no outrage in the government when it failed in inglorious fashion within months of being launched in 2018. Not that there is any now.
The failure of the Satkosia repopulation project speaks volumes of the Odisha forest department’s inability to evolve when many states have created successful tiger conservation models and integrated tourism and development to boost the economy. When the project was planned, Odisha needed to get its act together—clear human habitations from the reserve, take the local community into confidence and install a scientific monitoring system. None of it was in place as conflict with local settlements became the biggest problem.
Poor protection saw male tiger Mahavir poached even under surveillance. The failure in such a high-profile project notwithstanding, little has changed. Odisha is probably among the few tiger-bearing states not to have added a tiger reserve in 10 years. One in Sunabeda, a tiger reserve proposed in the Nuapada district, is awaiting notification for a decade. This poor state of affairs in the forest department does not do justice to CM Naveen Patnaik, known to be a wildlife enthusiast.