Pune: The State government had approved deploying of the Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) for the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve (STR) in 2013, which is a home for not less than seven big cats. However, it continues to be guarded by regular forest guards. This proposal for STPF deployment has been pending with the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change since 2015.
Wildlife activists claim that poaching and theft of medicinal plants are rampant in the absence of the STPF. When contacted, top officials at the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) told Sakal Times that the proposal was discussed before the technical committee in 2015. But a decision was deferred as there were other places where threat perception was higher. The officials said there was no subsequent follow-up from the State government for the STPF deployment for STR.
Last week, two people were arrested in Baje village in Patan taluka and a leopard skin and gun were seized from them.
Speaking about this, Cleament Ben, Field Director of STR, supported the demand for STPF and told Sakal Times that the demand for STPF is justified as the conservation of STR is vital for the ecosystem services viz guaranteeing water security and for maintaining the microclimate of the region.
He added that this is the only reserved forest in western Maharashtra having a tiger population. He added that this tiger reserve has unprotected core on the western side, or the Konkan region.
There is also a threat of poaching of ungulates and herpetofauna. Considering all these factors, STPF is needed for STR and so he is closely following-up the matter with the State government.
Wildlife activist from Satara, Rohan Bhate said that at several villages like Nav, Paneri, Baje, Ghotil and Bamnoli, residents have guns in their possession. These residents secured gun licenses for protection of crops in the old days, but these guns continue to remain in their possession. Bhate said they suspect these guns are being used for poaching.
Arguing that STPF is a must to protect the rich biodiversity in STR, which is spread over 1,265 square km and three districts including Satara, Sangli and Kolhapur, wildlife activist Nana Khamkar said that Sahyadri Tiger Reserve is an integral part of Western Ghats and is rich in biodiversity.
He added that STPF will play a significant role in curbing the cases of poaching and theft of medicinal plants. He said, “STR has two parts, one Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary and Chandoli National Park. Konkan Kada lies at its Western boundary.”
Khamkar said that unlike its eastern side, STR has no buffer zone on the western side. Poaching of smaller animals like pangolin and theft of medicinal plants are a common occurrence near Konkan. Khamkar said patrolling and intelligence gathering done by STPF will play a significant role in curbing these activities.
Ajit Patil, Honorary Wildlife Officer of Sangli, said that out of five ranges in STR, at three places, namely Koyna, Bamnoli and Chandoli, the posts of Range Forest Officers are vacant.
Patil said the posts for forest guards and foresters too are vacant and as a result patrolling and monitoring is not done properly.