Bhubaneswar, March 7: Odisha’s wildlife is in danger. From being hunted to coming into conflict with people, animals are being threatened with extinction.
The most vulnerable wildlife animals in Odisha are elephants, leopards and deer.
According to state government statistics, there were 2044 elephants in Odisha in 1979 and they ranged wide in the dense forests Dhenkanal, Deogarh, Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sambalpur, Angul, Sundargarh and Cuttack. Last counted in 2017, their number has reduced to 1976. The drop in elephant population was largely due to increasing poaching activity
According to Dr Biswajit Mohanty, a leading wildlife protection activist, elephants in Odisha have been forced to leave their native forests scattering into smaller populations and spreading out to several other districts. Notably no census has been undertaken since last three years in Odisha.
“Odisha loses more elephants than other elephant-bearing Indian states which register a steady increase in their population. The state also poses all the identified threats and dangers that elephants come across in India and Asia. The devastating changes in Odisha’s elephant landscape because of increasing mining and construction activities, electrocution and train accdents have virtually decimated the elephant habitats and traditional corridors bringing them into frequent conflict with humans and the many threats in and around human habitations,” says Dr Mohanty.
Keonjhar district which had 112 elephants in 2002, had just 40 of them in 2017, losing them to large scale mining but Dhenkanal district which had 81 elephants in 2002, had 169 in 2017 as elephants got trapped as they could not cross over to other forests on their traditional migration routes cut off by Rengali irrigation canal network. Today, Dhenkanal witnesses more human-elephant conflict than any other district in Odisha, adds Mr Mohanty.
“Similarly, the 60-odd elephants from the Chandaka sanctuary were so disturbed by development activities that they have now virtually abandoned the sanctuary and migrated to Ganjam and Cuttack districts. In fact, only one elephant was counted in Chandaka sanctuary during the 2017 census,” he pointed out.
The Elephant mortality rate is rising alarmingly as the average death per year which was 33 per year from 1990 to 2000 became 46 per year from 2000 to 2010, but since 2010, the average has become 78 per year. While 463 elephant deaths were recorded during the period 2000 to 2010, the number grew sharply to 784 elephant deaths in the period 2010 to 2020.
“Of the 784 deaths in the last ten years, 281 (36 percent) elephants died an unnatural death and in 160 (20 percent) cases the cause of death could not be ascertained primarily due to finding of bodies in highly decomposed state. One could conclude that nearly 50 per cent of the elephant mortality in Odisha is unnaturally caused,” says Dr Gouranga Charan Rout, a leading forest conservation activist of Rayagada in south Odisha.
Not only for elephants, has the state also turned a graveyard for leopards. The seizure of nearly a dozenofleopard skins in the few months at Nabarangapur, Nayagarh and Berhampur has exposed the wildlife smuggling racket in Odisha.
Poachers are indulging in mindless killing of the wild cats for their hides as reports pour in from the districts about seizures.
According to wildlife experts, at least 160 leopards have been poached across Odisha in the past 10 years. In July, 2020 the Special Task Force of Crime Branch of Odisha police had seized five leopard skins indicating its large-scale poaching.
Previously in June2020, a joint team of Chhattisgarh Police and Odisha forest department had arrested a skin trader with a leopard skin in Nuapada district on the Odisha-Chhattisgarh border. In the same month the Special Task Force of Odisha Crime Branch had seized four leopard skins from Ranapur Range and arrested three people in Nayagarh district.
“Odisha is a haven for wildlife poachers and traders as we have been seeing huge levels of tiger and leopard poaching leading to a drastic fall in their population. The forest department despite abundant resources and legal powers has miserably failed to control poaching even in tiger reserves like Simlipal and Satkosia,” alleges wildlife conservationist and former member of National Board for Wildlife Dr Biswajit Mohanty.
Even when leopard skin traders are apprehended red handed they are not prosecuted properly as a result of which there is not a single conviction for leopard skin trading or poaching.
“In April, 1996 one of the largest seizures in India was done near Khurda when 21 leopard skins were seized from one wildlife trader. However, the accused is yet to be convicted in this case and he is on bail since 24 years,” says Dr Mohanty.