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Simlipal staff to blame for jumbo killings: NTCA panel

 
THE PIONEER
July 29, 2010
Moushumi Basu | New Delhi
 
Very little animal presence was noted in the Simlipal Tiger Reserve. 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…. In most cases, the field staff who appeared de-motivated and demoralised 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…”

The shocking findings figure in the report of the two-member probe committee, set up following the sensational disclosure of nearly 12 jumbo killings, and reports of burnt carcasses in the reserve last month.

The report has listed at least 10 recommendations that should be implemented as immediate priority and 25 others on the basis of regular priority. The report calls for stringent action against field staff for concealment of elephant deaths and destruction of evidence.

The committee was constituted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and its report was at last made public on Wednesday. For reasons unknown, it was kept under wraps for considerable time after its submission. The Pioneer had recently reported on the issue as to why the report of the committee, comprising Biswajit Mohanty, Secretary, Wildlife Society of Orissa and former member National Board of Wildlife along with Belinda Wright, Director, Wildlife Protection Society of India, was kept a closely-guarded secret?

Though the report mentions seven deaths, the members had mentioned that on the day of signing of the report there was “confirmed evidence of three more elephant carcasses and information of seven or eight more dead elephants, bringing the total to possibly 18 dead elephants in Simlipal, all possibly killed by poisoning and gunshot….it does not appear that any of these elephants died a natural death”.

The report states that of the seven elephant deaths analysed, there is enough evidence to suggest that the field staff were involved in the concealment of some deaths. Moreover, there was a concerted effort to destroy the remains of at least two of the elephant carcasses, and perhaps more, which amounts to destruction of evidence without registering a case. The report calls for fixation of accountability if the situation in the reserve is to improve.

It has called for the setting up of an independent monitoring committee by the NTCA. This, however, has already been done by the authority before the report was made public.

Further, a wildlife crime intelligence gathering system should be started. It stressed that apart from a covert informer network system, there is an urgent need to gather overt information from the public.

The committee has found evidence of regular incursions of tribal mass-hunting groups of 100 to 200 members (aka Akhand shikar) from the peripheral villages. They have been entering the park for over a year. They use country-made guns, along with bows and arrows. It is important to seize these illegal arms to prevent large-scale poaching of wildlife. Report recommends for rewards to an informer if his information leads to the recovery of such country-made guns.

The report further stresses that “funds provided by the NTCA and/or STR should not be reallocated or withdrawn since this negatively affects protection measures. It pointed out that in March 2010, there was an acute need for funds to cover the expenses for the relocation of Jenabil village from inside the core area of Simlipal. As a result, the balance funds for critical anti-poaching camps in Baripada Division were withdrawn to cover the financial shortfalls of the relocation.

The report has called for the provision of at least Rs 2 lakh every year to each of the three territorial DFOs to carry out enforcement raids. The posts of vacant Deputy Director and two Assistant Conservators of Forests should be filled up immediately and park management should exercise greater supervision and control. The staff must be duly motivated to carry out their duties effectively.

It is important that the confidentiality of wireless messages should be maintained, particularly in view of reports of Left-wing extremists moving in parts of the park. It has emphasised on enlisting local community support to keep tab on poachers or hunters.
The members have expressed concern over the fact that there was hardly any animal presence in the reserve during their probe. The situation in Simlipal is chronic and a serious overhaul needs to take place. “It is our considered opinion that unless our recommendations are swiftly implemented by the State and NTCA, that we may soon see a disastrous situation in Simlipal,” the members stated.

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NOTE:
The report on SIMLIPAL TIGER RESERVE can be downloaded from the Project Tiger website:
http://projecttiger.nic.in/Assessment_%20monitoring_tiger.asp

 

 

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