Karnataka sets up special tiger protection force

Karnataka has become the first Indian state to set up a special commando unit for protecting tigers in its dense forests from poachers and hunters, a senior official said Tuesday.

"The 54-strong trained commando unit will be deployed from Wednesday in the two major tiger reserves located in Bandipur and Nagarhole national parks on the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border to protect the wild cats from poachers and hunters," state's Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) B.K. Singh told reporters here.

The Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) comprising 14 deputy forest range officers and 40 young guards have completed a three-month crash course for learning to survive in the jungle terrain and use various types of weapons at the state police training school in Yelahanka, about 30 km from Bangalore.

"The force has been divided into three groups to be stationed initially at three locations in the two contiguous national parks. When a commando reaches 40 years of age, he will be shifted out of the unit and assigned other jobs in the forest department," Singh said.

An assistant conservator of forests and three range forest officers will supervise the operations of the special force, which is equipped with firearms, binoculars and wireless sets to be a deterrent to poaching.

As per the latest (2011) tiger census, Karnataka is the most tiger dense state with 300 of the 1,700 wild cats in the country prowling in six major reserves across the state, including the Biligiri Ranganna Temple wildlife sanctuary in Chamrajnagar district, about 200 km from Bangalore.

According to the state forest department, about 50 tigers died in Karnataka since 2006, in which 25 were killed by poachers and hunters. In the last two years, 25 tigers were killed across the country, including five in this southern state.

Constituted under the aegis of the union environment and forests ministry on the recommendation of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the force expenditure will be fully funded by the central government.

"We plan to induct an additional 54 personnel into the force for deploying in the other three tiger reserves across the state. They will also undergo physical training, unarmed combat, training in using weapons, field engineering, map reading, disaster management and crowd control," Singh noted.

The NTCA has identified 13 tiger reserves in seven states across the country for the ambitious project to protect the dwindling population of the big cats.

"The second force will be set up in Odisha for deployment in its Simlipal tiger reserve," NTCA member secretary Rajesh Gopal said.

The central government sanctioned Rs.50 crore to the NTCA in 2008 for raising, arming and deploying commandos in 13 sensitive tiger reserves across the country -- Dudhwa-Katerniaghat, Corbett, Ranthambore, Pench, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pakke, Bandipur-Nagargole, Tadoba Andhari, Mudumalai, Kaziranga and Simlipal.

"The big cats are a prize catch for poachers as their body parts are extensively used in making traditional Chinese medicines," said Inspector General of Police H.S. Negi who is associated with NTCA.

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