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Big cat count in Odisha, Maoist causing inconvenience

New Delhi: With the beginning of February, the Odisha government is all set to began its ‘big cat count’ while the authorities plan to skip the Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary that has lately turned into a hot-bed for the Maoist.

The tiger censusin the sanctuary, in Nuapada district, has not been conducted since 2004 after it became a part of the Red Corridor. The sanctuary, accorded in-principle status as tiger reserve by the centre in 2014, is spread over 600 sq km but has still failed to attract wildlife enthusiasts and tourists due to the fear of ultras, who have killed several people, including forest guards and police officers in and around the reserve.

With the presence of central security forces, the government is, however, hopeful this time to conduct a census and combat the Maoist menace.

“We are hopeful of conducting the tiger census this time. There is the presence of central forces besides police forces. If any untoward incidents occur, we may skip the counting. But as of now, we are certain to go for the counting,” said Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) S S Srivastav.

Sunabeda was home to 32 tigers and 36 leopards, according to the 2004 tiger census. The current number is unknown since there was no count in 2010. Same was the situation in 2014 and no census was conducted even though the Wildlife Institute of India had done so in the Similipal and Salkosia tiger reserves.

Sunabeda, 1983 declared sanctuary, not only the home of tigers also provides shelter to hyenas, baring deer, chital, gaur, sambar, sloth bear, hill myna, pea fowl, partridge and a number of reptilian species.

Officials accept, the funds allotted for the preservation of the big cats is not being utilized properly due to the fear of the ultras.

Forest department sources said the presence of Maoists in the sanctuary first came to light in 2008 when the rebels started holding motivational meetings in villages of the region. In subsequent years, they started targeting local leaders, wildlife and forest officials.

The guerrillas have also destroyed government infrastructure. Sources revealed that the first major violence by the guerrillas was reported in May 2012 when they ambushed a police party and killed nine policemen, including an additional superintendent of police, inside the sanctuary.

At present, the CRPF troopers and Cobra (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) personnel have been deployed at Barkot, Jamgaon, Sunabeda and Soseng villages in the region.

Sources in the forest department also said there has been a constant fall in the number of visitors owing to the Maoist menace. The department recorded 22,000 footfalls between 2001 and 2005. The figure dipped to 2009 between 2006 and 2009. In 2010 and 2011, only 815 tourists visited the place. No tourist has visited the area since 2012.

Only 28 tigers have been reported in the state according to The All India Tiger Estimation Report-2014, which the Odisha forest department refused to buy and decided to conduct its own counting, hoping to find 60 animals in the state.

“We do not accept the report which put the number of tigers at 28. The report was only based on the data from the Similipal National Park. It did not take into account the tigers in other forests like Atgarh and Kuldhia. The number of big cats in the state would be around 60,” said Srivastava.(IANS)

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