LONDON: As Naveen Pattnaik, Chief Minister of the Indian State of Odisha, continues his nine-day visit to the UK, campaigners say urgent action is required to stop the destruction of his State’s precious environment and protect the rare tigers living in it.
Located in Eastern India, Odisha is home to Simlipal National Park, the only known habitat of the elusive melanistic, or black, tigers.
Mr Pattnaik is in Britain to promote his home state and to discuss development issues with the UK Government’s Department for International Development. The UK has long been a major donor to the region and since 1999 has invested £183m in projects in Odisha.
The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) believes the security and management of critical ecosystems such as Simlipal must be on the agenda during his visit.
EIA campaigners visited Simlipal earlier this month and were alarmed to witness the plight of security staff; unarmed and without proper equipment, training or support, they are still expected to protect the forest from poachers, illegal logging and encroachment.
Simlipal is one of India’s oldest tiger reserves. Declared in 1973 under Project Tiger, it contains 2,750 sq km of forest and is prime habitat for tigers, prey species and elephants.
But with frontline staff paid less than US$50 per month and lacking even basic necessities such as mosquito nets, anti-malarial medicines and food rations, protection of the reserve has suffered. In recent years, the park has seen numerous cases of wildlife poaching, elephant killings and incursions by Maoist insurgents. In February 2012, approximately 1,000 armed people entered the park to hunt wildlife, including species upon which tigers depend for food.
Two missions were dispatched by India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to investigate the state of the park following raids by militants in 2009 and the high-profile killing of elephants in 2010. A number of recommendations were made seeking to “seriously shake up” the running of the reserve, but so far the Odisha state government appears unwilling to implement them.
“This is not a question of money,” said EIA Campaigner Alasdair Cameron. “The crisis at Simlipal is due to a failure of political will. There have been several studies highlighting the steps that need to be taken, but there has been very little action on the ground by the State.
“At the most basic level, how can a man with no jeep, no weapons, little training and no malaria nets be expected to look after some of the world’s most precious habitats?”
Among the NTCA’s calls are action to address the involvement of some forest officers in concealing incidents of elephant poaching, creation of an independent monitoring body and a wildlife crime intelligence-gathering system, special efforts to seize illegal firearms, and proper funding for enforcement.
“All the money Mr Pattnaik might need to do this is already to hand – all that’s lacking is his will and that of his administration to responsibly implement the NTCA’s recommendations,” added Cameron.
“The situation in Simlipal is a classic example of the problems facing the tiger. While national governments draft good strategies on protected areas and attend meetings of CITES or the Global Tiger Initiative, on the ground we find mismanagement, apathy and corruption are destroying habitats, endangering wildlife and harming livelihoods.”
Interviews are available on request: please contact Alasdair Cameron at email@example.com or telephone 020 7354 7960.
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