The growing naxalite violence in forested region of eastern Vidarbha has had an alarming impact on the forest conservation and wildlife protection!
According to officials, ever since the naxalite movement took roots in Gadchiroli district in early 80's, the impact of Maoist violence has not just been limited to law and order situation but it also extends to the state's forest conservation and wildlife protection activities.
The official agencies dealing with naxalite problems usually focus on the law and order implication of the problem. However, the unchallenged dominance of naxalite has also led to widespread poaching and illegal felling of trees. This had led to a startling drop of big cats in the densely forested districts of Gondia, Chandrapur and Gadchiroli for the last two decades. As per the forest department documents, over 150 tigers have totally vanished from these three-naxalite-hit districts since 1989, after the naxalites struck there in 80's. The Panther population in these forest areas too has come down from 117 to just 50 as per the latest general wildlife census, carried out in 2005. The wildlife experts here fear that the next round of general wildlife census, scheduled during April-May period this year, may through up even more shocking picture of the wildlife status in the region due to this problem. The general wildlife census carries by the forest department once in every four years.
The increasing naxalite activities in these districts have adversely hit the forest and wildlife conservation and protection works in the famous wildlife sanctuaries of Bhamragarh, Chaprala (both in Gadchiroli district), Nagzira and Navegaon National Park (both in Gondia district). The situation is so serious that the state wildlife department has just not been able to carry out wildlife census in Bhamragarh Wildlife Sanctuary in Gadchiroli district since its inception in 1997.
Not a single tiger had been sighted in Allapalli Forest Division in last general wildlife census while it was once a home to a rich population of big cat (as many as 37 tigers in 1989 census). Similarly, the Bhamragarh forest division in Gadchiroli district, where 22 Tigers were recorded in 1989 census, its population has come down to the shocking figure of just one! Most revealing case is with the Sironcha Forest Division in the district, where 48 tigers were estimated in 1989, now it has come down to just four. Things have become so bad that the latest census reported that only 12 tigers were sighted in the Chandrapur forest division--- home to 50 big cats in 1989.
Kishore Mishrikotkar, the assistant conservator of forests-wildlife (Vidarbha region), felt that a seizable tiger population vanished in the region because of naxalite-poachers nexus. It is believed that there is a strong link between the poachers and the militants that led to the progressive fall of big cat. The poachers are taking an advantage of the Naxalites' believe that "wildlife is not as important as people." The locals are suspected to have helped the poachers for easy money. Forest officials also feel that tribals fall prey to the extremists mainly because of poverty.
Dr Nand Kishore, chief conservator of forest (Wildlife), Vidarbha region, admitted that the presence of extremists in these areas have badly hit the conservation of wildlife. "The unarmed forest personnel are not able to do routine patrolling in interior areas, particularly in Gadchiroli forests because of Naxalite menace," he said.