Tadoba: Last February, when a tiger was surrounded by a panic-stricken crowd in Ashta village in the buffer zone of the Tadoba Andhari tiger reserve, a trained force of the forest department was called in to control the situation.
Called the Special Tiger Protection Force or STPF, it has been tasked with ensuring the safety of the national animal.
It took over half a day to get the tiger safely out of the village without any human casualties, in the process proving to be an important practical learning on conflict management for a young force.
The SPTF has been deployed at two tiger reserves in Maharashtra, one at Tadoba and the other at the Pench tiger reserve since 2012.
Experts believe that more than 50 tigers roam the Tadoba reserve. India is home to more than half of wild tigers in the world, with an estimated population of 1,706 according to a 2011 estimate of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
Swapnil Ghure, who heads the STPF says, "There has been no poaching incident in Tadoba since the STPF has been inducted. In a conflict situation they are helpful in two ways: to control the mob and ensure safety of wild animals besides monitoring wildlife."
Tadoba had recorded at least three cases of suspected poaching in the summer of 2012, the year STPF took over. In 2013, evidence was reported in two cases which indicated poaching, but no poaching incidents were confirmed.
However, no such incident has been reported in summer 2014.
Tigers are more susceptible to poaching in summers as they tend to converge near water bodies making them easy targets.
Managing an agitated crowd is just one of its functions. Its primary responsibility is to undertake anti-poaching measures in the park.
The STPF's success lies in its numbers and is deployed in all the three ranges of the reserve. The force patrols the forests in large groups deterring any potential poachers.
"We patrol the forests; our strength is in our numbers. We can take on a big group that is doing illegal activity inside forests and ensure the safety of wildlife animals from poachers," a female officer of the force told NDTV.
Kishor Rithe of the Satpuda Foundation that works for animal welfare told NDTV, "STPF has been very effective not only in controlling incidents of poaching but has also played a crucial role in making people more aware especially in an area like Tadoba where there are incidents of man animal conflict. That's why we are eager to get two more STPFs for sensitive reserves like Melghat which borders MP and Navegaon Nagzira tiger reserves in the state."