By Siba Mohanty
Shocking as it is, Satkosia Tiger Reserve seems to be headed the Sariska way. Dwindling tiger signs and absence of breeding for two years in the habitat have rung alarm bells for Odisha?s second tiger reserve.

In the 2010 enumeration by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the tiger population was estimated at eight. A host of factors now indicates that the number may have declined drastically. Although the management of the tiger reserve is collecting tiger signs from the prime habitats, they have been declining and are discouraging to say the least.

According to sources, camera traps installed in the tiger reserve have shown signs of the existence of tigers, but the population is reported to have hit the nadir. Already designated a low tiger density reserve, the drop in population may push the large cats into extinction in Satkosia soon. The number at present could well be just one or two and unless urgent measures are taken, there would be none left in near future.

The tiger population does not seem to be thriving since there are no signs of cubs with mothers or even juveniles to suggest that breeding is taking place. This could be fatal to the population, said a source in Satkosia. Interestingly, prey base in the tiger habitat, which is connected to the tiger habitats of Central and Southern Odisha and onwards to the Central India tiger landscape, has improved over the last few years. The population of wild boar, spotted deer and sambhar has jumped significantly, but there has been no sign of an improvement in tiger population.

The Satkosia TR management is aware of the impending crisis. As the prey base and habitat has improved and there is no known poaching incidents, perhaps the problem is the sex ratio of the existing population, Field Director Pandav Behera told the Express on Monday. Sources said a skewed sex ratio could be a major reason behind the crash in the tiger population in Satkosia. Camera traps had captured an adult male in Labangi about three months ago. However, the absence of growth in the population indicates that there is either no female or none of a breeding age. Worryingly, all the photographs captured in the reserve area are of the same male tiger. The tiger that is currently roaming the forests of Chandaka Wildlife Division is believed to have strayed from Satkosia and may be a key indicator of what is wrong with the latter. Wildlife Wing insiders say the male may have been on the lookout for a female for mating.

Satkosia was declared a TR in 2007 with 524 sq km as core area out of the 963 sq km reserve area. The NTCA in its Management Effectiveness Evaluation Report 2010-11 had categorically pointed out Satkosia had poor protection, little wildlife orientation and no monitoring, and asked for urgent redressal. The State has not made any effort to date.

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