Elephants go the tiger way in Simlipal Reserve

Elephants go the tiger way in Simlipal Reserve

Debabrata Mohanty
Posted: Fri Jun 04 2010, 23:32 hrs

A two-member expert committee of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has started its investigation into the biggest ever poaching of elephants inside Orissa’s famous Simlipal Tiger Reserve after two wildlife activists of Mayurbhanj district took off the lid on the incident.

Following petitions by wildlife activists to Forest and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, NTCA member secretary Rajesh Gopal last week constituted a two-member independent team comprising prominent wildlife activists Belinda Wright and Biswajit Mohanty who are now touring the reserve and assessing the ground situation vis-a-vis the elephant poaching cases. The team would submit its report within a fortnight. Since the deaths happened inside the tiger reserve, NTCA has the right to order such a probe.

The poaching of 12 elephants came to light in mid-April this year when Mayurbhanj wildlife activist Vanoo Mitra Acharya and honorary wildlife warden of Mayurbhanj Sanjukta Basa got to know of the elephant killings. A local forest staff reported the death of only one elephant in April. But subsequent visits and investigations by Basa and Acharya found that six more have been killed. The activist duo have information that five more have been killed.

An attempt by independent persons to enter the Park to verify the reports was frustrated by the Range Officer of Pithabata Range. He refused entry to Basa when she wanted to visit the core area on April 30 though she had an official order issued by a senior officer. The fact-finding team found remains of burnt bones of one elephant at Dudhurchampa. Similarly, remains of two carcasses including bones were found buried at Mondama hills under Kandadhanu section. Another burnt elephant carcass was discovered at Jodapal Chhak.

“During our field investigation inside the tiger reserve, we found bones and other evidence of the killed elephants. The carcasses were stinking. There were definite attempts to hide the bones as we found the same concealed under huge rocks,” said Acharya. The fact-finding team also found remains of two carcasses, including bones, buried at Mondama hills under Kandadhanu section.

Officials at the Simlipal Tiger Reserve admitted the elephant deaths, but its director H S Upadhyay and Regional Chief Conservator of Forests Ajit Bhartuar refused to confirm whether the elephants have been killed by poachers. A team from the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau has also visited the reserve to inquire into the poaching cases. The State government also ordered an inquiry into the killing of elephants by poachers.

Simlipal has been classified by the NTCA as a Tiger Reserve in poor condition with low density of tigers. The camera trapping census of tiger carried out by WII, Dehradun, put the tiger numbers at 20. Elephants are gradually disappearing from the Park. Officials from the regional office of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau visited one of the spots in the Similipal tiger reserve to conduct an on-the-spot check of the reports of elephant killing.

Member of National Board of Wildlife, Biswajit Mohanty has written to Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh demanding a CBI investigation into mass killings of elephants in Simlipal Tiger Reserve. “A CBI investigation is required to uncover the role of field forest officers as to whether they connived with the poachers. In at least four cases, there was an effort to destroy evidence by burning or burying the bones ,” he said.

Eminent wildlife conservationist Ashok Kumar of the Wildlife Trust of India said the incident had eerie similarities with that of tiger disappearance from Sariska.




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