Simlipal Tiger Reserve (STR) is part of one of the largest contiguous tiger and elephant habitats in the world. With a Biosphere Area of over 5,000 sq km, it is one of the most promising landscapes for tigers and their prey species.
After a number of elephant deaths were reported in April and May 2010, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) constituted an independent assessment team on 3rd June 2010. The two-team members (Biswajit Mohanty and Belinda Wright) proceeded immediately to Simlipal to visit the Tiger Reserve from 6 to 11 June 2010.
We made the following observations:
- From the evidence, we confirmed seven elephant deaths, all of which have most likely been killed by poachers.
- In some of the cases the field staff 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.
- At least six of the elephant deaths might never have been exposed had it not been for the local informers and two courageous and determined conservationists from Mayurbhanj District.
- Very little animal presence was noted. 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, at all hours.
- The Forest Staff appeared to be thoroughly unmotivated and demoralized. There have been regular incursions of tribal mass-hunting groups of 100 to 200 people entering the Park for over a year. While we were there, at least three such groups entered the Park on 7, 9, and 11 June 2010.
- Forest staff can only try and persuade the hunters to turn back with “folded hands” since they do not have armed support; all arms have been withdrawn in view of the continuing threat from the Maoists.
- After last year’s concerted attack on the forest infrastructure by maoists, many of the protection beat houses in the National Park are yet to be re-occupied.
Our recommendations that are considered to be of “Immediate Priority” are:
- Action against field staff for concealment of elephant deaths and destruction of evidence
- An independent monitoring committee should be formed by NTCA
- A wildlife crime intelligence gathering system should be started
- Special drive to seize country-made guns
- Protection Funds should not be re-allocated
- Funds to DFOs for enforcement raids
- Vacant Deputy Director and 2 ACF posts to be immediately filled
- Park management to exercise greater supervision and control
- Confidentiality of wireless messages should be maintained, and
- Enlist local community support from peripheral areas bordering the Park.
As we were signing off on this report today, we received news from the Honorary Wildlife Warden’s team that they had 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 gun shot. This matter should be professionally and thoroughly investigated immediately, although with the onset of the monsoon, this is not going to be an easy task.
Simlipal Tiger Reserve is too precious to be left unattended or uncontrolled. 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.
Report authored by Belinda Wright and Biswajit Mohanty.