The escape of poachers after firing at forest guards – injuring two -- on Wednesday night has spotlighted threats to tigers and security holes at the Sariska Tiger Reserve (STR), experts said.
Forest officials said the incident was the first encounter between forest guards and poachers since 2005 when it was known that the reserve lost all tigers to poaching. In 2008, tigers were relocated from the Ranthambhor Tiger Reserve to STR where the big cat population has now grown to 14.
“In 2005, nobody could get a wind of the large-scale poaching going on at Sariska. The bravery of these forest guards is commendable because they took on poachers,” said an official.
Though police and forest officials are yet to identify an organised group behind the Wednesday night’s incident, they entered the reserve through the points used by poachers in 2005. “The STR administration is on alert but vacant posts should be filled and security measures tightened to ensure survival of and increase in tiger population at the reserve,” said the official.
STR, spread over an area of 1213 square km, is divided into 102 beats for monitoring and protection of wildlife. The reserve has now 139 sanctioned posts of forest guards -- almost one guard per beat. “Looking at the poaching threat to wild animals, encroachments and wood cutting, each beat needs at least 4 to 5 forest guards, taking the force strength at the reserve to 400 to 500,” said an official. Home guards are now deployed at the reserve to meet the force shortage.
Of the eight sanctioned posts of assistant conservator of forest (ACF), the reserve has only three. Six out of 13 forest ranger posts are lying vacant. “Range officers and ACFs are crucial for ensuring protection to tiger reserves,” said the official.
The formation a special task force (STF), proposed for Sariska around three years ago, is still under consideration. “The STF with 112 armed personnel will tackle poachers who enter STR with weapons. The STF for Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve has been constituted two years back. But STR is still waiting for an STF,” the official said.