2 Odisha forest dept officials suspended after elephant electrocuted
Senior officials of the Odisha state forest department on Sunday suspended a forester and a woman forest guard of the Dadraghati forest section under the Dhenkanal forest division over dereliction of duties a day after a 10-year-old female elephant was found electrocuted in a village after coming in contact with a live electric wire apparently set by a poacher.
The carcass of the female elephant along with a wild boar was found at a forest near Baghagharia village under Hindol forest range of Dhenkanal district on Saturday morning. On finding the elephant carcass, the villagers informed the forest officials who found live electric wire near the spot as well as a dead wild boar.
“We have suspended forester Saroj Behera and forest guard Swarnaprava Sethy on charges of gross dereliction of duty. Though they were repeatedly warned of presence of elephant in their range they were not going on patrolling on a regular basis. Had they been alert, the elephant would not have died of electrocution from the hanging live wire that was set up for the wild boar,” said Dhenkanal DFO Prakash Chandra Gogineni.
On August 26, a 30-year-old tusker died after coming in contact with an 11 KV wire in a forest near Jagannathpur village in Satokosia wildlife division of Angul district. The tusker, a part of the herd, came in contact with the live wire laid by poachers at a mango orchard near the village. On August 25, two female elephants who had just given birth to two babies, were electrocuted in the OUAT campus in Keonjhar district.
Odisha has registered 16 cases of unnatural deaths of elephants in forests in the past 2 months making it the biggest casualty of the pachyderms in a short span in more than a decade. Of the 15, at least 7 deaths are due to poaching, including that of a tusker in Athgarh forest division that died last month after it was found with multiple pellet wounds.
Odisha is also one of the states to have reported very high number of deaths of elephants by electrocution in India. At least 741 such deaths were reported in the country in 10 years till December 2020. Of those, Odisha accounted for maximum 133 deaths.
As per data shared by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in the Lok Sabha on August 8, there have been 29 cases of elephant poaching cases in the country in last 3 years. Odisha, which has emerged as a hot spot of human-elephant conflict, accounted for at least 7 elephant deaths due to poaching while Meghalaya accounted for 12 poaching deaths.
The death of the 4 elephants in 10 days due to electrocution comes amid a visit of a three-member team of the Union Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ministry visiting three wildlife divisions in Odisha last month to inquire into the rising elephant deaths. The team, headed by retired Indian Forest Service (IFS) officer and former principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), wildlife, of Kerala, Surendra Kumar, also included scientist from Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Bilal Habib and joint director of Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB), HV Girisha.
The Orissa high court last week approved constitution of a task force comprising members of forest department, Odisha police and a wildlife activist that will recommend suitable criminal provisions to be applied on persons involved in elephant poaching. Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a Cuttack-based wildlife activist seeking amendment to the Wildlife (Protection Act), 1972 on the lines of the Wildlife (Protection) (Assam Amendment) Act 2009 to add more teeth to wildlife crime control efforts, the two judge-bench of chief justice S Muralidhar and justice RK Patnaik said the task force will intervene in not just elephant poaching cases, but also other wildlife such as tiger and trading of pangolin. As forest officials were not empowered to book wildlife offenders under Indian Penal Code (IPC), the committee will and suggest IPC provisions to be applied on the offenders.