Jorhat, April 25: Increasing conflict with villagers living along the periphery of Orang National Park have become a big concern for authorities of the smallest national park in Assam.
Forest guards had to resort to a mild lathicharge yesterday on a group of villagers, mostly women and children, in the Bhabapur area of the park. The villagers had entered the park to gather reed (tall grass used in construction) and had damaged a portion of the electric fencing.
“We asked the villagers to leave the area immediately but they threatened to attack our men with machetes which they were carrying to cut reeds,” divisional forest officer of Orang, Sushil K. Daila, told The Telegraph.
The villagers today staged a protest against the attack in front of Dalgaon police station in Darrang district demanding immediate arrest of the guilty forest personnel who had beaten up women. They alleged an old woman was seriously injured in the attack.
This is the second incident at Bhabapur, where the villagers have engaged in a conflict with the forest personnel in recent times. Last year, a forest department mahout, Ohed Ali, died after he was attacked by villagers when he had gone to the area to chase back a tiger which had strayed out of the park. Daila said the forest department has lodged a complaint with police regarding the intrusion of the villagers yesterday, which has threatened conservation efforts at the park.
Spread over 78.8 square km on the north bank of the Brahmaputra, Orang has witnessed poisoning of at least three Royal Bengal tigers last year by villagers in retaliation to tigers attacking cattle. The park recorded a tiger population of 24 in the census conducted last year. The park has witnessed the deaths of at least 18 tigers since 2005. While nine of them were killed because of poisoning, the rest died of infighting.
The villages near the park also witness regular incidents of tigers killing cattle.
Another forest official said the villagers not only poison the tigers but also provide logistical support to poachers. “We have arrested several villagers from the fringes on earlier occasions for their involvement in rhino poaching,” the official said.
Daila said the forest department has been trying to help villagers and involve them in the conservation efforts. He said the park authorities had signed an MoU with WWF-India a couple of years ago for paying an ex gratia of Rs 2,500 to owners for cattle killed inside or on the periphery of the park as a goodwill gesture.