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After rising protests, Odisha plans to shift tigress Sundari to Nandankanan zoo

Odisha forest and environment minister Bijayshree Routray said tigress Sundari that was imported from Bandhavgarh tiger reserve of Madhya Pradesh to Satkosia tiger reserve in Odisha in June this year will be kept in Nandankanan zoo after it is tranquillised by experts.

india Updated: Oct 29, 2018 23:49 IST
Debabrata Mohanty
Debabrata Mohanty
Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar/New Delhi
Tigress,Sundari,Odisha
Odisha forest and environment minister Bijayshree Routray said tigress Sundari that was imported from Bandhavgarh tiger reserve of Madhya Pradesh to Satkosia tiger reserve in Odisha in June this year will be kept in Nandankanan zoo after it is tranquillised by experts. (AP Photo)

India’s first interstate translocation exercise for tigers has hit a roadblock with Odisha forest officials deciding to keep a recently moved tigress in captivity after villagers near Satkosia tiger reserve have accused her of killing two people.

Odisha’s forest and environment minister Bijayshree Routray said on Monday that the tigress, Sundari, who was imported from Madhya Pradesh’s Bandhavgarh tiger reserve to Satkosia this June, will be kept in Nandankanan zoo once she is tranquillised by experts.

Sundari has been blamed by residents for attacks that left a 65-year-old man dead in the state’s Angul district earlier this month. The divisional forest officer of the tiger reserve P Ramaswamy said that the postmortem report of the the 65-year-old man suggested that he was killed by a tiger.

She was blamed last month for mauling another woman to death. But the woman’s postmortem report was unclear, suggesting that she may have been killed by a wild animal, but did not conclusively show that she was mauled by a tiger.

Local residents have been demanding that Sundari be sent back.

Protesters set an office and boats of the forest department on fire. Over the last month, 29 people, including the Angul district BJP president, have been arrested by the police in connection with the agitation connected with Sundari.

The tigress and a tiger, MB-2, were shifted to Satkosia as part of a joint project of the Union ministry of environment and forests, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to repopulate the reserve that once had 12 tigers a decade ago.

Though MB-2 seems to have settled down in the area, 30-month-old Sundari has become the target of villagers who claim she also attacks stray cattle in villages near the reserve.

Odisha’s chief wildlife warden in-charge Sandip Tripathy said Sundari was spotted in the deep forest 3km away from Asanabahala village in the reserve’s core area.

“An expert team from Madhya Pradesh has been sent there to tranquillise it,” Tripathy said.

Forest officials said the developments were a setback to the relocation process. “Had the relocation of the two tigers gone well, we would have got four more tigers to Satkosia,” said an official who asked not to be named.

Some tiger experts have questioned the relocation exercise calling the prey base in Satkosia as not enough to support big cats.

“Satkosia is not an inviolate area by any stretch of imagination and there is hardly any herbivores there. In 1996, I had opposed declaring Satkosia as a tiger reserve. It’s a disastrous exercise,” said PK Sen, former director of Project Tiger.

“In the last one year, Pilibhit lost about 30 to 31 people living on the fringes of the forest due to attacks by tigers but people didn’t ask for the tigers to be killed or relocated. In Tamil Nadu, a few years ago, a tiger entered a coffee estate, and on a chance encounter with a person he killed the man. Finally, the tiger was shot dead when an operation to capture him was underway,” said Dipankar Ghose, director, species and landscape, at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“I am giving these examples because the treatment depends on how people respond to the threat. The Odisha government has to garner support of local people now. It’s a matter of pride that there are tigers in Odisha forests,” he added.

Ghose said that putting a tiger in a zoo on the basis of mere “threat perception” is like sending someone to jail and can be extremely traumatising. The animals can be relocated and adapt to other forest areas instead.

Wildlife biologist Sanjay Gubbi said, “National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has brought out an SOP to deal with issues related to human killings by tigers and leopards. However, it is very important that ecological factors and community sentiments are also taken into consideration before reintroduction. At times we need to look at issues holistically rather than based on pure emotions.”

(with inputs from Jayashree Nandi in New Delhi)

First Published: Oct 29, 2018 23:49 IST