KHAMMAM: Encroachment of forest land and illegal poaching are posing threat to wildlife in Khammam district. The thick and dense forests in the district offer habitat to wild animals like deer, sambar, Indian gaur, bear, leopards, panther and tiger. But the forest cover is fast disappearing due to increased deforestation and encroachment of forest land.
There has been a steady increase in incidents of man-animal conflict as wild animals are often straying into human habitations in search of food and water. While farmers complain that wild animals are destroying their crop, the circumstances that drive them out of forest are going unattended.
According to forest officials, increased human activity inside the forests is forcing the wild animals to stray into human habitations. Apart from encroachment, smuggling of forest resources and illegal poaching are rampant in the forests adjoining the district. Animals are hunted for bush meat and a thriving underground trade is sounding death knell for wildlife. The population of wild animals is dwindling day by day and forest officials are concerned about the the sharp decline in forest cover. According to official records the district has a forest cover of 7.58 lakh hectares.
Poaching and smuggling of forest resources are rampant in the wildlife sanctuary in Palvoncha mandal. Though strike forces are patrolling the forest areas to check poaching and smuggling, wildlife is disappearing rapidly. According to forest officials, many species of animals have migrated to other areas due to deforestation and poaching.
While forest department officials claim that they are striving to check poaching and encroachment, villagers beg to differ. Recently, two female leopards, including a 18-month-old cub was killed and their nails were stolen by poachers at Abbugudem forest area in Kothagudem forest division.
Recently a sambar deer strayed into Palvoncha town and was chased and killed by stray dogs. Another sambar deer was killed by poachers in Venkatapuram mandal. All these three incidents were reported within a week. According to villagers poaching is rampant in villages bordering forest areas and only few incidents come to light. Deer meat is being sold by poachers at the rate of `300 to `500 per kg, sources said. According to environment activists, shepherds who take cattle to forest areas for grazing are also disturbing wildlife, forcing wild animals to stray into human habitations.
Another reason is drying up of water resources inside forest areas during summer. With streams and ponds drying up during summer season, wild animals are forced to stray into human habitations in search of water. Poachers use this opportunity to kill them for bush meat.
According to Kinnerasani wildlife sanctuary divisional forest officer (DFO) J Venkateswara Rao, cutting of forest wood and encroachment are disturbing wildlife. He said there is one male tiger in the forest adjoining Khammam distric including five leopards and 2 females. The forest also offers habitat for Indian gaur, spotted deer, Sambar, bear and peacocks. He admitted that the forest had more tigers and leopards earlier but poaching and deforestation had led to sharp decline in their population.
Dr Narasaiah, conservator of forests opined for people's participation in forest conservation.