Agartala, March 11: Indiscriminate felling of trees has emerged as a major threat to Sipahijala wildlife sanctuary in Bishalgarh sub-division, around 35km from here.
Spread over an area of 18.53 square km beside National Highway 44, the sanctuary was marked for designation as a national park by the Union ministry of forests and environment in 2009 but there has no progress in this regard.
However, its very existence is under threat with indiscriminate felling in the reserve forest area bordering Laticherra, Chikoncherra and Takarjala.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a district forest officer said the authorities were aware of deforestation but no action was being taken to plug the loopholes.
“The indiscriminate felling of amla and other trees, which provide food for more than 700 deer, over 200 wild pigs and more than 600 monkeys, has led them to stray into human habitations for food and get killed,” he said.
He said the pigs and monkeys have been destroying paddy, fruits and vegetable fields in six villages around the sanctuary and the residents have already approached the Bishalgarh nagar panchayat, forest and police departments to get rid of the problem. “Monkeys also encroach into households and ransack them at will,” the officer said.
“Another issue is the shifting of the Forest Training Institute from Sipahijala to Hatibagan in Sadar (north). The trainee forest guards used to be deployed for the purpose of security,” he said. Protection of the spectacled monkey, a rare species, has become a major problem, he added.
The officer said during the high point of insurgency between 1993 and 2003, the number of people visiting Sipahijala had fallen sharply and even forest smugglers did not dare enter the sanctuary fearing presence of armed militants in the nearby villages.
“The end of insurgency has thrown the floodgates open again for smugglers and poachers. Recently, five deer that strayed into Takarjala in search of food did not return. They might have been killed and eaten by villagers,” said the forest officer.
Another problem that has led to a drop in footfall is the practice of sanctuary authorities to ask the parents of boys and girls who visit the sanctuary whether they have been given permission, according to the officer.
The additional conservator of forests, D.K. Palit, indirectly admitted the problem “does exist” but it is being exaggerated.
“We have some problems and we are addressing them. Things will become normal after the induction of additional security men,” he said. He also expressed hope that Sipahijala would soon be notified as a national park, resulting in the flow of more funds for development.