Bijay Ketan Patnaik
nly 1,411 tigers left in the wild: National print and electronic media highlighted this point when the report of Tiger Census 2006 — conducted by Wildlife Institute of India using camera trap method for the first time — was published in 2008. Some predicted the tiger will vanish from the country in the near future. Earlier, tigers were counted using pugmark census, a technique developed by the founder director of Similipal National Park Padmashri Saroj Raj Choudhary. In 2004, the pugmark census put the total number of tigers in the country at 3,642. So, when the report of Tiger Census 2006 came out, there was clamour that the big cat number had declined by more than 60 per cent from the pugmark census.
The camera trap census for Odisha showed the state had only 45 tigers, as against 192, including 60 cubs reported in the 2004 census. Similipal, the report said, had only 20 tigers, compared with 94 (including 28 cubs) in the 2004 pugmark census. This drastic reduction sent a panic wave among foresters, wildlife lovers, experts and environmentalists. National Tiger Conservation Authority, the prime body looking after tigers, then initiated corrective action to conserve and expand tiger population at reserves nationwide.
Tiger census using capture-recapture method with camera trap was repeated every fourth year. The 2010 census revealed some positive development and the country’s tiger population was reported to be 1,706. The trend continued in 2014 census also and the tiger population was estimated to be 2,226. Unfortunately, in both these consecutive estimations, the tiger population of Odisha declined. It fell from 45 to 32 in 2010 and from 32 to 28 in the 2014 estimation.
Deeper analysis showed that during 2010, the tiger population in Similipal and Satkosia reserves stood at 23 and 8 respectively, which meant that beyond these two reserves, there was only one tiger left in the wild. The All-India Tiger Estimation Report 2014 put corresponding numbers at 17 in Similipal and 3 in Satkosia and 4 to 5 in the proposed Sunabeda tiger reserve, where on two earlier occasions — 2006 and 2010 — camera trap census was not carried out due to Left Wing Extremist activities.
These figures showed the big cat population in the state was under considerable stress owing to poaching. Although the state wildlife wing reported that only 3 tigers died during 2013-14 to 2017-18, the sudden spurt in tiger deaths over the last two years bears testimony to the stress.
In December 2016, the carcass of a Bengal tiger was recovered from the border of Bolangir and Nuapada districts. This tiger may have strayed from the Sunabeda reserve. The death raised questions about wildlife protection measures. A few months later, the state forest department announced that three tigers were spotted outside the reserve — one in Hemgiri forest of Sundergarh Forest Division, another in Debrigarh Wildlife sanctuary and the third at Muniguda of Rayagada Forest Division.
But in October 2018, the carcass of one of these tigers was recovered from near Debrigarh wildlife sanctuary. It had been killed and buried by poachers.
Most recently, November 14, 2018, Mahavir (T1), translocated from Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, was found dead with a deep cut to its neck later affirmed to have been caused by a snare laid by poachers.
Sundari (T2) a tigress translocated to Satkosia from Bandhavgarh in Madhya Pradesh had to be tranquilised and returned to an enclosure in the core of the jungle after it killed two human beings by accident. The tigress is under tremendous stress and is losing its wildness from being in the enclosure for long. Some also fear for the fate of two resident tigresses in Satkosia. Residents of villages surrounding the reserve are apprehensive and intolerant of tiger movement in the forest as it could hamper their illegal activities such as poaching, timber smuggling and gathering firewood from the forest. This leads them to systematically eliminate tigers and other animals, both herbivores and small carnivores. Such incidents regularly occurring in our forests raise serious concerns about the safety of wild animals, particularly the tiger.
The writer is former PCCF (WL) and CWLW, Odisha.