BHUBANESWAR: Amid a string of poaching incidents, two back-to-back killings of forest officials by poachers in Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) have exposed the vulnerability of frontline staff in the biggest tiger habitat of the state and the crying needs for the deployment of armed forces.
Though STR has its own tiger protection force ‘STPF’, sources said it has not been of much help in countering poaching activities in the tiger reserve. Moreover around 30 out of its 81 positions are lying vacant.
Experts attribute the lack of adequately trained professionals in the force to be one of the key reasons of its ineffectiveness in carrying out strong anti-poaching activities. Though locals having knowledge of the forest have been inducted into the force, in the absence of proper training, STPF has not proven to be of much use. Most of the time the personnel accompany the uniformed staff of Similipal in patrolling, a retired forest officer said.
“If Assam can have its own special rhino protection force and can deploy commando unit to intensify anti-poaching operations in Kaziranga National Park, why can't we?” asked another wildlife conservationist and retired IFS officer Jitasatru Mohanty. The Forest Department can also consider the deployment of an external agency as an immediate measure. “We have already done this in past when CRPF was deployed for protection of teak forest in Barbara-Dhuannali reserve forest in Khurda,” Mohanty said.
After a Maoist attack in the tiger reserve in 2007, the Forest Department had reportedly asked all the field units to deposit weapons at the district armouries, Since then, sources said, the supply of arms to field staff has remained limited.
“It is high time we have an armed forest reserve in Similipal in line with the armed police reserve (APR) to prevent poaching activities in the tiger land,” opined former field director of STR Suresh Kumar Mishra. The retired IFS officer, who has served in Similipal for nearly a decade during his career, said Upper Barhakamuda in the core of STR South Division is an extremely important range of the tiger reserve and the killing of a forest official in the area indicates Similipal’s vulnerability to poaching activities.
“It is clear from these incidents that the tiger reserve has turned into a war zone and poachers are emboldened due to inadequate patrolling and security measures,” he said.
Wildlife experts point out that the lack of patrolling in areas vulnerable to poaching in past has led to a confrontation on those forest stretches at present. “The government should revisit its strategy and ensure senior officials are also part of patrolling on regular intervals to motivate the uniformed staff on duty in the field,” Mishra said.
He underlined that the idea of managing the entire 2,750 square km area of STR with two deputy directors needs to be done away with to allow nearby divisions -- Baripada, Karanjia and Rairangpur -- to mobilise forest staff in a time of need. PCCF Wildlife SK Popli said the protection measures will be reviewed, while he will also seek details regarding the special rhino protection force from the Assam forest department to find whether similar measures could be taken in Similipal.