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Poachers turn protectors - New band of saviours for Similipal sanctuary

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  • Published 10.09.13

Balasore, Sept. 9: A year ago, Dhanu Soren, 45, of Anantapur used to lead a team of over 1,000 poachers in the Similipal sanctuary. Now, he works with the protection force to help curb poaching in the forest.

Further, Dhanu is now on a job to convince fellow poachers to refrain from illegal activities.

Along with Dhanu, Laxman Marandi of Anantapur, Chhotray Marandi of Itagard and Budhhuray Hembram of Khuntabil, all in the age group between 45 and 55, decided to turn over a new leaf about six months ago.

The four poachers hung up their weapons and joined the government protection force to help curb the large-scale poaching activities in the sanctuary of Mayurbhanj district, credit goes to an initiative by a voluntary organisation, Sangram.

Sangram organised a meeting of forest officials at Lulung under Pithabata range, and the four poachers surrendered at the meeting with a vow to save the forest and its fauna.

Later, the forest department appointed them as protection assistants for a daily remuneration of Rs 150 each.

“It took nearly six months to persuade them to surrender. The authority had even engaged a local villager to understand the poachers’ dialect and communicate our messages. Of the four, Dhanu had been the most dangerous. Earlier, he used to lead poachers’ team for hunting in the sanctuary at least three to four times a year. He used to invite poachers from Nilagiri in Balasore and organise poaching trips,” said Bhanoomitra Acharya, an honorary wildlife warden of Baripada.

With their surrender, however, the sanctuary has become a safer place.

“Now, other poachers are scared to enter the sanctuary as these people are working for the forest department and keeping a constant vigil to curb poaching in the area,” said Acharya.

A forest official said Dhanu even faced the prospect of being booked under the National Security Act after his gang in May last year took a team of forest personnel, including an assistant conservator, hostage in the Upper Barhakamuda range during a raid.

Several wildlife cases are pending in courts against the poachers.

“The cases are under observation and we are monitoring their activities. However, the poachers-turned-protectors have proved to be of great help to our department,” said deputy director of the Similipal Tiger Reserve Bikash Dash.

Forest officials admitted their failure in eliciting information from poachers about their trail.

“We are yet to extract key information about their entry points and modus operandi from them. Probably, they lack confidence in us. We are trying to appeal to many more poachers to give up weapons,” said regional chief conservator of forest Anup Nayak.