Task force formed to safeguard wildlife and counter poaching in Similipal Tiger Reserve
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The Odisha government has taken a significant step to protect the precious wildlife and natural heritage of the Similipal Tiger Reserve (STR) by establishing a joint task force (JTF). This decision comes in the wake of the tragic killing of two forest frontline workers by alleged poachers, raising concerns about wildlife conservation in the region.
The Joint Task Force’s Mandate
The newly formed joint task force comprises around 200 armed police and forest personnel, with the following key responsibilities:
- Collecting Intelligence: The task force will gather crucial intelligence to track poaching activities and other illegal wildlife-related practices within the reserve.
- Identifying Offenders: It will work towards identifying individuals involved in possessing illegal arms and ammunition to curb illegal activities threatening the reserve’s ecosystem.
- De-weaponing Villages: The task force aims to de-weaponize fringe and buffer villages surrounding the tiger reserve to minimize potential conflicts with wildlife and prevent poaching incidents.
- Creating a Database: A comprehensive database will be prepared to enhance tracking and monitoring of wildlife conservation efforts in the reserve.
Composition and Leadership
The joint task force will be under the leadership of the field director of Similipal Tiger Reserve and will include senior officers from both the forest and police departments. It will consist of one company of armed constabulary (approximately 100 personnel) and around 90 forest field staff, including guards from the specialized wing known as the Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF).
Empowering the Task Force
The task force now has the authority to deploy forest and police personnel for regular patrolling within the Similipal Tiger Reserve. Additionally, it will facilitate training sessions for forest personnel in handling firearms at susceptible anti-poaching camps, strengthening the reserve’s ability to counter armed poachers.
Addressing Past Challenges
The decision to form the joint task force comes after two forest frontline workers were killed, prompting a symbolic protest by other field staff who refused to engage in patrolling duties. The state government responded by granting immunity to forest personnel under Section 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) for using firearms in self-defense while dealing with poachers and in reserve forest areas.
Challenges Faced by Similipal Tiger Reserve
A recent visit by The Indian Express to the Similipal Tiger Reserve highlighted several challenges faced by the reserve authorities, including:
- Shortage of Staff: Out of the total 439 sanctioned posts, 192 are currently vacant, leading to manpower shortages.
- Engaging Protection Assistants: To address the manpower shortage, the reserve authorities have recruited local youths as unskilled workers known as protection assistants (PAs).
Similipal Tiger Reserve – A Natural Treasure
Similipal Tiger Reserve is one of Asia’s largest biospheres, boasting the presence of the rare melanistic royal Bengal tigers. It is a crucial habitat for diverse wildlife species and plays a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance in the region. The All India Tiger Estimation recently released data that showcased a doubling in the number of tigers in the reserve, underlining the significance of conserving this unique natural heritage.
The establishment of the joint task force marks a proactive approach by the Odisha government to protect its natural wealth, preserve the wildlife-rich Similipal Tiger Reserve, and combat illegal activities threatening the region’s biodiversity. Through this initiative, the government aims to strengthen wildlife conservation efforts, ensure sustainable management, and secure the future of this vital ecological hotspot.