In Odisha, six types of felines (cats) are found. One is big cat and other small cats. Among big cats, the Royal Bengal Tiger, leopard and panther are found, while among the small ones, fishing cats and domestic cats are included. The Royal Bengal Tiger, leopard and small wild cats stay in dense forests. Five types small cats, including the domestic cats, are found in the State, which are also predatory like the big cats.
The fishing cats are always confined to wetlands where fishes are available in abundance. Due to loss of wetlands and non availability fishes, their population has also gone down.
Especially, the Royal Bengal Tiger and leopard or panther need appropriate habitats with various components. One is dense forest where the animal can live without least interference of man and there is availability of sufficient prey animals to hunt. Besides, sufficient water sources must be available where they live. If all these things are not available, the big cats cannot survive. In absence of prey animals, they often turn man-eaters.
Poaching for hides, nails, canines, fats, fur, moustache etc is another reason of the steady decline in their population. Electric fencing by the poachers and crop raisers to protect crops, besides mining operations and encroachment of forests lands for human settlements have sounded death knell for these animals. The felines are not prolific breeders as compared to goats and pigs.
In Odisha forests, another big cat cheetah was living once upon a time, which is now extinct due to depredation by man and loss of suitable habitats and prey animals. Not only Odisha but also throughout India this species is vanished at present. Now the other two existing big cats like Royal Bengal Tiger and leopard are under verge of extinction from Odisha where the man is alone responsible for such debacle. The administration has also failed to give protection to the ecological systems. The big cats can only thrive in the landmass, where perfect biological eco-system is maintained.
Wildlife management requires perfect dedication, devotion and determination. If these three things are not seen in the personnel looking after the forests and flora and fauna, spending money through unskilled managers is as good as a waste. That is what is happening in Odisha. As per media information, a few days back, a leopard was killed in Barnei forest of Balangir Forest Division. The animal was trapped in copper wires set by miscreants. Not long back, tiger Mahavir died in Satkosia forests, though so far the reason has not been established. Similarly, in the recent past, one Royal Bengal Tiger was killed in Debrigarh forest of Hirakud Wildlife Division, where the poachers are on the prowl. As it is observed it is not too far, when tigers and elephants will vanish from Odisha forests due such rampant poaching and mismanagement of the eco systems. The tiger and panther, both mammals, are endangered animals as per the Wildlife (protection) Act 1972, where the penal provision is heavy but so far not even single person is convicted under such provision for committing the crime. It shows the administration is lax in giving protection of to the ecological systems of the State.
The Karlapat forest of Kalahandi and Similipal forests are famous for black panthers and black Royal Bengal Tigers. The species are available throughout the country and in Burma and Sri Lanka, but the races vary according to variations of climatic zones.
The animals can thrive almost in every types of adverse conditions. They can live even in rocks, bushes and open lands. They hunt even in daytime. They are very cunning which can overpower their prey very easily and eat them. The panther kills and eats small sized cattle, monkey, deer, smaller sized rodents, porcupines and even village dogs. It also eats birds, reptiles and crabs. It kills big animals like Sambar, Nilagai, bison, crocodiles etc. but it fears to encounter tigers, wild dogs and hyenas. It is found frequently in human habitations. So the poachers find enough chance of killing the animal for profit. If it is seen within human habitat, it must have targeted to attack domestic animal like calves, sheep and goats and country dogs.
The writer, while serving in Jayapatna area of Kalahandi forests had camped in Mahulpatna village, way back in 1958. A panther had created panic in the locality by frequently straying into the village and hunting dogs at night. Panther also thieves the kill of the tiger. So the tiger always stores its kill in a secret place. The tiger fails to encounter the panther as it escapes by jumping over to a tree top, where the tiger cannot reach. The tiger is vexed with the mischievous activities of panther. In some cases, the tigers leave the kills.
When the writer was in service, the Similpal Development Corporation merged with the Orissa Forest Development Corporation in 1992. The writer met with a black panther on prowl in Thakurmunda area of Similipal Tiger Project in the evening. The biological behaviour of the big cat is also peculiar. It breeds all over the year like man.
Very recently, there was a news that a leopard was hunting cattle in villages of Nuapada district and the forest administration was alert to protect the cat from the local people’s ire. It shows that the animal is not getting its natural food from its own habitat and is forced to invade into human habitat.
The duties and responsibilities of the wild manager are huge. The local people should be roped in the conservation and protection drive of forests and forest resources. There are instances of turning the hardcore poachers and hunters into conservationists.
Every financial year, crores of rupees are spent by the State Forest Department under rehabilitation of degraded forests and under wildlife management. But the success rate is sadly discouraging.
(The writer is a former forest officer and environmentalist, M-9937460649)