Itanagar: Spotting of a tiger near a human habitation outside Namdapha National Park and Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh has led to the unearthing of illegal timber depots in the core area of the park, a senior district official said.
A Royal Bengal Tiger was caught on cameras near Deban Forest Inspection Bungalow in January this year. It was the second tiger spotted in Namdapha after an eight-year gap.
During an operation, conducted by a joint team of the administration and the forest department, to find out why a tiger ventured out of the core area after 2015, large-scale timber smuggling was detected inside the national park.
Namdapha National Park in Changlang district, near the international border with Myanmar, spans an area of 1,985 sq km, including a core area of 1,808 sq km and a buffer zone of 177 sq km.
On March 14, the team led by Changlang Deputy Commissioner Sunny K Singh found several illegal timber depots in the core area of the park.
Timber smugglers had also carved a 20-km stretch of kutcha road in and around the core area of the park, Singh said.
Of the motorable road, which is suitable only for small trucks, 1-2 km of it falls inside the park while the remaining stretch is in its buffer zone.
The DC said wood-based industries legally operate in Changlang district. The forest department issues permit by stipulating a quota of cutting trees and the mills manufacture veneer and plywood and then export it from the district, Singh said.
“The problem is that the persons involved in timber operations cut more trees beyond the prescribed quota. They even constructed a road at the national park up to the core area and resorted to rampant illegal felling of trees and extracted timber from inside the park since November last year.
“It was a tough operation and the smugglers made it even more difficult by blocking our way with logs. However, our team members showed unmatched strength and cleared the path,” Singh told PTI on Saturday.
A district official said on condition of anonymity it is difficult to comprehend how the smugglers carried out such “large-scale illegal activities” under the nose of forest department officials.
The administration directed forest officials to ensure strict monitoring of all suspected areas adjoining Namdapha and take stringent action against smugglers.
During the operation, eight persons were arrested.
The team also seized an excavator, a pickup and two trucks, one loaded with timber.
Another excavator and two trucks were found abandoned in the jungle, Singh said.
Two persons, one from Arunachal Pradesh and another from Assam, were absconding and arrest warrants were issued against them, the DC said.
The DC said the sighting of a Royal Bengal Tiger in January near Deban Inspection Bungalow after eight years was not a mere coincidence.
He attributed it to destruction of habitat owing to timber smuggling in the catchment of Mpen Nallah a perennial stream.
“The catchment of Mpen Nallah has dried up due to deforestation. It is the source of water for the animals of Namdapha as well as the residents of the Miao subdivision. If there is a scarcity of water, there will surely be human-animal conflicts,” Singh said.
According to preliminary estimates, over 2,000 CFT (cubic feet) of timber was found lying at several illegal depots en route.
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“The administration is fully committed to preserving the rich flora and fauna of the national park. We will go to every possible length under the ambit of the law to preserve its sanctity,” Singh said.
The Namdapha National Park with varied exotic floral and faunal species is the only place where four big cats Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard and Clouded Leopard – are found.
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