Sunabeda Tiger Reserve
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Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary is a proposed tiger reserve located in the Nuapada district of Odisha, adjoining Chhattisgarh. It has a total area of 500 km2. The sanctuary harbours a great diversity of wildlife habitats, with a vast plateau and canyons with 11 waterfalls. The sanctuary forms the catchment area of the Jonk River, over which a dam has been constructed to facilitate irrigation. The Indra nullah lies to the south and Son River to the west of the sanctuary. The important vegetation of the site comprises dry deciduous tropical forest.
Sunabeda Wildlife Sanctuary has certainly seen better days. It had swamp deer (Cervus duvauceli branderi) and Wild water buffalo (Bubalus arnee). Even now, typical central Indian wild mammals such as tiger (Panthera tigris), leopard (P. pardus), gayal (Bos frontalis), sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), wild boar (Sus scrofa) and blue bull (Boselaphus tragocamelus) are found, although depleted by poaching. Among the non-human primates, common langur (Semnopithecus entellus) and rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) are very common. (Kotwal 1997)
Around 200 species of birds have been reported from this area (H.K. Bisht in litt. 2002). BirdLife International (undated) has listed 59 species in biome-11 (Indo-Malayan tropical dry zone), of which 18 have been seen till now, but more are likely to occur. Except for the two Gyps vultures, which are now included in the critically endangered category by BirdLife International (2001) due to their steep decline during the last 10 years, none of the other species is threatened with extinction.
Biome-11 includes a wide range of habitats, including forests and open country. Many of the species listed have adapted to man-modified habitats. Some species have deviated so far from their earlier distribution that they may not be useful in identifying IBAs for the protection of this biome (BirdLife International, undated).
Tiger reserve status
Sunabeda has received 'in-principle-approval' of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, proposals for its notification as per NTCA-guidelines is under preparation. The proposed TR extends over 956.17 km2 (longitude - 82°20'0" to 82°34'48" east and latitude 20°06'0" to 20°44'0" north), in Nawapara district bordering the state of Chhattisgarh to the west of Odisha, and encompasses the Sunabeda Sanctuary (591.75 km2) and the Patdhara forest block to its south (364.42 km2).
As per the government the in-principle approval has been accorded by the National Tiger Conservation Authority for creation of two new tiger reserves, and the sites are: Ratapani (Madhya Pradesh) and Sunabeda (Odisha). Final approval has been accorded to Kudremukh (Karnataka) and Rajaji (Uttarakhand) for declaring as a tiger reserve.
The state governments have been advised to send proposals for declaring the following areas as tiger reserves: (i) Suhelwa Wildlife Sanctuary (Uttar Pradesh), (ii) Guru Ghasidas National Park (Chhattisgarh), (iii) Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary (Goa), (iv) Srivilliputhur Grizzled Giant Squirrel / Megamalai Wildlife Sanctuaries / Varushanadu Valley (Tamil Nadu) and (v) Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary (Arunachal Pradesh).
Wild Orissa’s Sunabeda Tiger Conservation Programme is going on since 1997. As part of this programme special emphasis has been laid upon tiger conservation in 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 km2. Sunabeda Sanctuary itself at about 24 individuals. In addition, the neighbouring Khariar forests, measuring about 450 km2., 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 km2. 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 Chhattisgarh. 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. Sunabeda assumes even more importance when one considers that it is contiguous with the Udanti and Sitanadi forests in Chhattisgarh state to the west. If Sunabeda and Khariar are also given Project Tiger status, a large and extremely viable tiger habitat would be safeguarded.
Threats and conservation issues
- Human pressure
- Livestock grazing
- Encroachment of forestland
- Forest fire
- Unsustainable exploitation of the forest resources
- Illegal felling
According to Kotwal (1997), the highly endangered wild buffalo used to occur here nearly 70 years ago. At present, they are found in Udanti Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh, about 20 km away but there is a Patdhara Reserve Forest corridor. Efforts should be made to improve the habitat so that the wild buffalo can come back to Sunabeda using this corridor. This would give a boost to the protection of this sanctuary, which is important for birds also.
About 64 villages, with a human population of 20,000, fragment this sanctuary and there is a large population of cattle. The villagers subsist on forest products to a great extent, as they have land holdings with poor yield. Grazing and encroachment of forest land for cultivation of Cannabis sativa are major threats to the sanctuary. Graziers from other states including Rajasthan arrive here with their camels and goats, which compete with local herbivores for the grass. Though there is a proposal for a tiger reserve, there are extensive encroachments inside the sanctuary. It is doubtful if these people could be shifted (Biswajit Mohanty pers. comm. 2004).
The core area of Sunabeda could be increased southwards across the Indra nullah (stream), to add 30,000 ha of forest without human habitation (Kotwal 1997).