Sunabeda-Khariar tigers need protection
February 2004: Not much is known of the status of Orissa’s tigers outside of the Simlipal Tiger Reserve. But there are in fact several pockets hosting viable populations. These need protection if they are not to be snuffed out by the combined onslaught of timber smugglers and poachers. Local NGO Wild Orissa has been actively campaigning for the declaration of the Sunabeda-Khariar forests in the Nuapara district as a tiger reserve.
The forests of Sunabeda-Khariar in the Nuapara district of Orissa constitute a vital tiger habitat. The last census in 2002 put the tiger population in the 600 sq. km. Sunabeda Sanctuary itself at about 24 individuals. In addition, the neighbouring Khariar forests, measuring about 450 sq. km., also support a few tigers. Together, these forests harbour a reasonably large tiger gene pool, with long term conservation potential. A compact patch of about 1,000 sq. km. could be earmarked for the Sunabeda Tiger Reserve.
Also of interest is the movement of the extremely rare wild buffalo, Bubalus bubalis in the area. These wild bovines enter Orissa from the Udanti and Sitanadi forests in Chattisgarh. Given that this species is on the verge of extinction in central India, protecting Sunabeda is of vital national importance.
The forests of the Sunabeda Sanctuary are sparsely populated, a rarity in today’s India, and the region has thus far escaped the attentions of Orissa’s notorious timber mafia. Three rivers and 11 major streams provide plentiful water sources. Bhubaneshwar-based NGO, Wild Orissa has been campaigning for the inclusion of these forests under Project Tiger for the last seven years, carrying out detailed surveys for the purpose. A detailed proposal has been submitted to the Chief Wildlife Warden of Orissa. However, sources reveal the proposal has yet to be sent by the state government to the Project Tiger directorate, even though more than a year has gone by.
Sunabeda assumes even more importance when one considers that it is contiguous with the Udanti and Sitanadi forests in Chattisgarh state to the west. The Chattisgarh state government has already taken action to bring these areas under Project Tiger. The Steering Committee of Project Tiger has already cleared the Sitanadi and Udanti forests of Chattisgarh for inclusion under Project Tiger during the 10th Five Year plan. If Sunabeda and Khariar are also given Project Tiger status, a large and extremely viable tiger habitat would be safeguarded.
Please write a letter asking that the Sunabeda-Khariar forests of Orissa be protected and that the proposal for their inclusion under Project Tiger be sent without further delay to the Project Tiger Directorate in New Delhi.