While other states are implementing viable wildlife management plans, the Odisha government is lagging way behind
Odisha had one of the worst report cards to show as far as wildlife management was concerned even as its government celebrated ‘India Wildlife Week’ along with other states recently.
The nation-wide event is organised by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change every year between October 2 and October 8.
But while India’s wildlife-rich states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand are implementing viable wildlife management plans, the Odisha government is lagging way behind, Biswajit Mohanty, the secretary of Wildlife Society of Odisha, said.
Barring the ‘Wildlife Week’ celebrations each year, when the government pats itself on the back, the Chief Minister and Minister for Forest and Environment never come to the forefront to review wildlife management, said Mohanty.
The Odisha State Board for Wildlife, whose chairman is Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik himself, has had a questionable existence since the last two decades. The Board hardly meets and whenever it does, it is to clear development projects in eco-sensitive zones, added Mohanty.
Though the Odisha forest department has introduced a toll free number at the chief wildlife warden’s office for receiving information about wildlife poaching and smuggling, the Wildlife Crime Cell is inactive and ineffective as it does not have expertise and the required intelligence network to carry out seizures and arrests.
Poachers and traders get bail easily and most of them are set free as the department does not have dedicated legal experts to ensure proper charge sheet and conviction.
The maximum impact is being borne by Odisha’s hapless wildlife.
Elephants: The worst sufferers
In the last nine years and six months (Since April 2010), 727 elephants have died in the state, of which, 257 (more than 35 per cent) have died due to unnatural causes — 113 to electrocution, 77 to poaching, 26 to poisoning, 26 to train collisions, five to road accidents and 10 after falling into human-made structures like open wells and irrigation projects.
In 147 cases, the reasons for death could not be ascertained as carcasses were found in a decomposed state, said Mohanty.
Last year (2018-19) saw the highest elephant mortality till date — 91, of which, 36 were due to unnatural causes and 27 due to unknown reasons. The year also saw the highest number of electrocutions till date — 24 of them, of which, 12 were by sagging power lines and 12 by hooking of live wires for poaching.
The electrocution of seven elephants together near Kamalanga, Dhenkanal, on October 27, 2018 is now considered to be one of the biggest tragedies in the annals of India’s wildlife history.
Recent months saw seven deaths due to train collisions, four of which happened in a single incident near Teldihi in Jharsuguda on April 16, 2018. The period also saw the highest number of human deaths by elephants — 92.
During 2019-20, with six months still to go, Odisha has already lost 33 elephants and human deaths by elephants are at an alarming 59. The deaths of three elephants on the National Highway at Balijodi, Keonjhar on August 22, 2019, are among the worst-recorded elephant deaths on Indian roads.
The government has done woefully little or nothing to prevent unnatural deaths of elephants. There are hundreds of locations which have sagging power lines.
Prevention of live wire poaching is not happening due to lack of regular night patrols. Till date, no underpasses have been made across vulnerable railway lines and roads for safe passage of elephants and other wildlife.
Tolerance for elephants is fast disappearing as angry farmers run from pillar to post to get compensation for crop loss.
Big cats vanish
While the tiger population has gone up in most Indian states, in Odisha, it has come down or remained static. In 2004, the state had claimed the presence of 192 tigers, which came down to 28 in 2014.
Even after spending crores of rupees on tiger conservation during the last four years, the numbers continued to remain stagnant at 28 in the 2018 census. Similipal, which houses most of Odisha’s tigers, witnesses rampant poaching of herbivores, the tigers’ prey base, due to the utter failure of the authorities to control poaching.
Satkosia witnessed an ill-advised venture into tiger tourism in June 2018 which went horribly wrong within two months as one of the two tigers relocated from Madhya Pradesh was poached and the other one had to be caught and brought back into an enclosure after she attacked humans.
The Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary, which had got an in-principle approval about a decade ago from the Centre to turn it into a tiger reserve, has not been notified yet by the Odisha government despite constant reminders from the National Tiger Conservation Authority, added Mohanty.
Leopards are being regularly poached for their skins and body parts. This is evident from the fact that 11 leopard skins have been seized in Odisha in the last one-and-a-half years and as many as 26 men have been arrested, most of them in operations carried out by the Crime Branch of police.
The biggest seizure happened in Kuchinda, Sambalpur on March 15, 2019, when four leopard skins were seized by the Crime Branch and seven poachers arrested. The forest department was clueless about seven of the 11 skins seized and has failed to identify the source of skins and where they were poached.
Turtles in trouble
Olive Ridley turtles, Odisha’s sports mascots, continue to be massacred in the thousands off the state's coast by illegal trawlers. The Rushikulya river mouth nesting site also did not witness mass nesting this year and yet again, the Ridleys avoided the Devi river mouth nesting site.
The fresh water turtles of Odisha are having a bad time too, being poached in large numbers for smuggling to other states and abroad. In eight recorded seizures in the last one-and-a-half years, mostly by Railway authorities and the police, nearly 2,900 fresh water turtles were seized.
Pangolins on the Brink
The pangolin, the most trafficked wild animal in the world, was rampantly poached in the last 15 months. This is evident from the several seizures of pangolin scales and live pangolins.
On June 18, 2018 when Shamsuddin Khan was caught with five kilograms of pangolin scales near Daspalla, Nayagarh, it was not known to the forest department that he was one of the most wanted wildlife smugglers in the state until the Crime Branch took over the case.
His arrest led to five more arrests including two from the Northeast and exposed a network that covered several states in India, on to Southeast Asia. The high demand for live pangolins was evident in the last one year when eight live pangolins were seized and reports of several more that got smuggled out came to light.
Odisha’s breeding grounds of rare Horse Shoe Crabs on the coast witness mass deaths each year during their breeding season due to lack of protection.
The sloth bears of Odisha are under constant threat from humans as attacks by bears have gone up due to competition for the same food source. Thousands of Parakeet chicks are smuggled out of the state to meet the pet trade demand outside the state.
We are a voice to you; you have been a support to us. Together we build journalism that is independent, credible and fearless. You can further help us by making a donation. This will mean a lot for our ability to bring you news, perspectives and analysis from the ground so that we can make change together.
Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.