By Belinda Wright
Simlipal Tiger Reserve (STR) is part of one of the largest contiguous tiger and elephant habitats in the world. With a Biosphere Area of over 5,000 sq km, it is one of the most promising landscapes for tigers and their prey species.
After a number of elephant deaths were reported in April and May 2010, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) constituted an independent assessment team on 3rd June 2010. The two-team members (Biswajit Mohanty and Belinda Wright) proceeded immediately to Simlipal to visit the Tiger Reserve from 6 to 11 June 2010.
We made the following observations:
- From the evidence, we confirmed seven elephant deaths, all of which have most likely been killed by poachers.
- In some of the cases the field staff were aware of the elephant deaths but chose not to report them; rather they deliberately attempted to conceal the elephant deaths/poaching incidents, by destroying the evidence.
- At least six of the elephant deaths might never have been exposed had it not been for the local informers and two courageous and determined conservationists from Mayurbhanj District.
- Very little animal presence was noted. We did not see a single tusker (for which Simlipal is renowned) or fresh elephant dung, even though we travelled over 100 km a day, at all hours.
- The Forest Staff appeared to be thoroughly unmotivated and demoralized. There have been regular incursions of tribal mass-hunting groups of 100 to 200 people entering the Park for over a year. While we were there, at least three such groups entered the Park on 7, 9, and 11 June 2010.
- Forest staff can only try and persuade the hunters to turn back with “folded hands” since they do not have armed support; all arms have been withdrawn in view of the continuing threat from the Maoists.
- After last year’s concerted attack on the forest infrastructure by maoists, many of the protection beat houses in the National Park are yet to be re-occupied.