The tragedy at the Sarika and Panna reserve forests is set to be repeated. This time it could be in the eastern state of Odisha, where no tigers have been spotted for months in Satkosia, a forest habitat on the banks of Mahanadi river.
Satkosia is one of the newest homes for the feline in India with the state government declaring 963sq kms as tiger reserve in 2007. At that time, the forest in the gorge of Mahanadi in southern Odisha had officially 18 tigers.
A unique habitat having elephants, leopards, gharials and pangolins among other wildlife, it was considered a second viable tiger home in Odisha since Simlipal was out of bounds for the forest department because of high naxal presence in Mayurbanj district. “The forest had perfect environs to sustain good tiger population,” said a senior official of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
Things have dramatically changed in the last year or so with poachers increasing their assault on elephants and tigers. “Lot of elephants had been poached in that area. We believe they (poachers) would have also killed tigers,” said Biswajit Mohanty of Orissa Wildlife Society and member of National Board for Wildlife.
State forest department officials, however, ruled out poaching of tigers but admit that the big cat numbers has hit a nadir in recent times. “The problem is because of skewed sex ratio of the existing tiger population. The tigers have failed to repopulate as some male tigers died because of old age,” an official said.
The reserve had around a dozen tigers in 2010 when the last estimation was done and the forest department claimed that the numbers would increase as most of the tigers were young and breeding. Two years down the line, they have been proven wrong with cameras installed recently failing to catch photographs of tigers. “We were not able to see even cubs or juveniles,” an official said.
Officials admit that Satkosia was facing danger of extinction of local tiger population and there may be need to relocate tigers from other reserves as done in Sariska and Panna, from where tigers vanished in the last decade. Both Sariska in Rajasthan and Panna in Madhya Pradesh now have tiger numbers following successful translocation.