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Friday, October 12, 2012

Forest staff shun tiger sanctuary

TNN | Oct 12, 2012, 12.16AM IST BHUBANESWAR: Tiger conservation in the Sunabeda sanctuary of Nuapada district took a back seat during the wildlife week with forest officials fearing to venture into the reserve area because of Maoist presence. Around three range officers, 10 foresters and 27 forest guards engaged in wildlife conservation, have stopped entering the sanctuary zone since May 23, 2009, when the ultras ransacked the range office at Cherechua. The forest officials don't have the exact statistics of big cat population. "The last tiger census was carried out in 2004, when the big cat population was 32 and there were 36 leopards. For the last eight years, there was no census. In 2006, attempts were made to conduct census but it failed," said Nuapada divisional forest officer (wildlife) Kapil Prasad Das. In 2010, all employees of forest department, who were deployed at Sunabeda tiger reserve in Nuapada district boycotted tiger census demanding adequate security. Sources said the killing of Katingpani forester Sangram Keshari Swain on April 28 near the sanctuary has made the officials panicky. "It is true our officers are fearful. But we are taking alternative measures and spreading awareness among people as well as the officials. Observation of wildlife week is one such step," the DFO said. Earlier, Maoists had threatened forest officials with dire consequences if concrete roads are constructed inside the Sunabeda sanctuary. Road work was being undertaken under Centre's Integrated Action Plan. A forester, who refused to be named, said they had been demanding their security ever since the Maoist menace began. "We are under tremendous pressure. If we venture into the sanctuary, we will meet the same fate as the Katingpani forester.," he said. Their fears are not unfounded. A month after May 2009 incident Maoists destroyed the beat house at Soseng. In November the same year, the extremists killed anti-poaching watchman Kirish Rout and former ward member of Sunabeda village Chandan Singh Barge.

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