BHUBANESWAR: A forest patrol in Jagannathpur B beat of Pampasar range in Satkosia Tiger Reserve looking for a tusker separated from its herd stumbled upon decomposed carcasses of two leopards - an adult and a cub - on Thursday.The advanced stage of decomposition of the carcasses suggested it took the Satkosia TR field staff about a week to 10 days to find that two big cats had died - presumably by way of poisoning.
The forest guard of Jagannathpur B beat, where the decomposed leopard carcasses were found, is in-charge of four other beats. He serves as in-charge of Jagannathpur B beat after his fellow guard was placed under suspension following death of an elephant in electrocution on August 26.This is how precarious is the scenario in State’s second big cat habitat Satkosia which has had a brush with infamy not so long ago. The much-hyped tiger re-introduction project had seen a complete meltdown a couple of years back.
Tiger-less by now, the TR is now battling acute shortage of staff even as Forest department is on its toes to ensure the habitat has adequate conservation measures to make it big cat ready.Of the 1,136 square km Satkosia Tiger Reserve, Satkosia Wildlife Division accounts for over 531 square km. Out of a sanctioned strength of 59 forest guards, the division makes do with less than 20. Of the existing forest guards, some are under suspension for lapses, while one or two are also on maternity leave. All this taken into account, the actual number of forest guards on ground comes down to just 15. Similarly, the number of foresters in the division is around 15 against the sanctioned strength of 25.
Sources reveal out of five ranges - Pampasar, Purunakot, Tikarpada, Raiguda and Jilinda - Satkosia division only has one range officer in Purunakot. Ranger posts in Raiguda and Jilinda are vacant, while in Pampasar the ranger is under transfer order. A deputy ranger is managing the affairs in Tikarpada.
When the tiger-relocation project was being implemented in the TR, the Satkosia Wildlife Division had over 360 squad members. The number, however, has since been reduced to 204 following scrapping of the project and outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic subsequently.
Staff position in the remaining divisions of the TR including Athamallik, Athagarh, Angul, Dhenkanal, Mahanadi Wildlife and Boudh is equally grim, sources informed.This, however, is not the only issue. Informed sources said the Centre fixed limit for placing estimates for both Similipal and Satkosia since 2021 leading to drastic reduction in funds.
The current funding under Central Sponsored Scheme (CSS) to Satkosia has remained just around Rs 5 crore annually forcing the divisions under it to manage wage expenses from CAMPA fund and other existing resources. Out of Rs 5.4 crore sanctioned under CSS for 2022-23, sources said, the Tiger Reserve received around Rs 1.1 crore till this month.
Since protection machinery, including wages to protections squad members, vehicle hiring and purchase of safety equipment, completely depends on CSS fund, funding slash has badly hit conservation measures, especially in Satkosia and Mahanadi wildlife divisions, officials acknowledged.
PCCF Wildlife Sushil Kumar Popli, however, said there is no dearth of funds to improve protection in the tiger habitat. “If funds are reduced in one scheme, it is balanced with the other. In fact, we have offered the best package to villagers for relocation from Katrang in Satkosia,” he said asserting that there is no reduction in overall funding to the tiger reserves.
Steps are also being taken to recruit forest guards and foresters to the vacant posts. It will be done soon, he said adding, to meet the staff shortage, the government is engaging large number of protection squad members.