KOCHI: At a time when incidents of wild animals straying into human habitations are on the rise, around 60 posts of forest range officers are lying vacant in the state. Incidents of wild elephants, wild boars, gaurs and other wild animals destroying crops have forced farmers to launch protests demanding steps to mitigate the conflict. However, the forest department is scrambling to attend to the complaints due to shortage of staff. A range officer in Thiruvananthapuram, who was transferred to the headquarters based on a vigilance report, had to be accommodated in the same office due to shortage of range officers.
The order in this regard was issued on November 3. The posts of range officers in two of the five ranges under Vazhachal division, which faces serious issues of man-animal conflict, are lying vacant for the past few months. “Range officers are the backbone of the department when it comes to anti-poaching activities, and fighting man-animal conflict. The absence of range officers delays action in forest crime cases and conflicts which trigger protests,” said an officer.
A herd of 14 wild elephants has been roaming around the villages of Kavalangad and Keerampara panchayats in Ernakulam district for the past couple of weeks. However, the posts of forest range officers at Neriamangalam and Mullaringad have been lying vacant which delayed the efforts to drive away the herds. Later Adimali range officer, who was given additional charge of Neriamangalam intervened and brought a rapid response team from Munnar to drive away the elephants. Similarly, the posts of range officers in Anakulam (Idukki), Chapra (Thrissur), and Nilambur (Malappuram) are also lying vacant.
The office of Forest Minister A K Saseendran informed that a batch of 56 newly recruited range officers are undergoing practical training and they will be appointed in February 2024. The trainees have completed 18 months of training at Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy, Dehradun, and Karnataka Forest Academy, Dharwad.
They are presently undergoing practical training in various forest divisions in Kerala. On completion of practical training they will assume charge as range officers. Around 50% of range officer posts are promotion vacancies and these vacancies have already been filled. There are 149 forest range offices in the state of which 74 are territorial ranges and 19 wildlife ranges. In addition to these, there are 19 vigilance ranges and 37 social forestry ranges also.
“Though the training of the new range officers will conclude only in February, we are planning to expedite their posting and the orders will be issued within 15 days. There are issues like man-animal conflict which need to be addressed. So we are trying to fill the posts immediately. A batch of 23 range officers will join soon and another batch of 19 range officers will join in January,” said Chief Wildlife Warden D Jayaprasad.