By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, December 13, 2022: The growing death of elephants due top poaching has impelled the Orissa High Court (HC) on Tuesday to slam the state forest department saying they are not able to prevent the rising elephant deaths in the state.

Terming 2022 as probably the worst possible year for elephants in forests of Odisha, the HC expressed deep concern over the concealment of elephant poaching and the burning of its carcass by three forest officials in Similipal Tiger Reserve of Mayurbhanj.

“This has been a very bad year for elephants in Odisha. It is perhaps the worst year. There is something going wrong terribly,” chief justice S Muralidhar said.

Taking an emergency hearing on the burning of the carcass of a tusker in the Similipal tiger reserve who was killed by poachers last week, a two-judge bench comprising chief justice S Muralidhar and justice Murahari Sri Raman said the state government was only reacting to rising elephant deaths but not been able to prevent the deaths.

At least 61 elephants in Odisha have died till Tuesday in 2022, while 97 people were killed in the man-elephant conflict, according to the official data.

“We are reacting to a situation all the time, but not preventing anything from happening. What are the preventive measures we have to put in place and how quickly we can put them in place?,” the court noted.

Last Thursday, a sub-adult tusker was killed by poachers near Bakua village in Jenabil range of Similipal tiger reserve and its tusk sawn off. Following the incident, the three officials of the forest range including a ranger officer allegedly burnt off the carcass and then threw the burnt bones in a river and stream.

Head of the joint task force on elephant poaching Manoj Nair admitted that three forest officials of the tiger reserve were involved in the destruction of evidence by burning the elephant carcass.

Following the action by the forest officers, they were suspended. Similipal tiger reserve field director T Ashok Kumar said he suspended the three officials including the ranger of Jenabil forest range in the reserve over their alleged involvement in the concealment of the elephant death and disposal of the carcass.

Principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) SK Popli said all the accused will be booked under the wildlife protection act and criminal proceedings will be initiated against them.

The HC which expressed its disappointment over the non-filing of FIR by the forest department asked the state government to submit an affidavit listing out the exact measures needed to be taken to prevent elephant poachings before the next hearing on December 22.

“The affidavit will include the names of the Gaja Sathis who were deployed for the protection of elephants as well as the map showing the elephant corridor routes in Odisha with the names of the villages that will fall in and around the corridor,” the court said in its order.

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