Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh, Oct 6 (UNI) Maoist Naxalites have claimed to have taken up forest conservation and wildlife protection in the Indravati Tiger Project area in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district leading to an increase in the tiger population.
Even the forest officials have to enter the project area only with the permission of the Maoist naxalites, who have been running a ''parallel government'' in the Bastar region for about two decades.
Still there is a controversy over the exact number of tigers since the naxalite claim could not be verified as the forest officials were allowed only once for head count of tigers.
A senior forest official said the naxalites had imposed a ban on tree felling and poaching in the tiger reserve sprawled over 1,253 sq km.
In a statement here today, a naxalite outfit 'Indravati National Park Dalam' said they took care of wildlife and forest and no outsider mustered courage to encroach upon the park area.
Forest officers were allowed to enter the park once in six months. Last time they ventured into forest was in February this year.
The forest officer claimed that a constant increase in the tiger population could be seen as there were 29 tigers in 2002, 35 in 2003, 39 in 2004 and 41 in 2005.
Confirming the hike in big cat population, naxalite leaders expressed doubt in the forest department's census as forest officials were allowed to foray in only 25 per cent area of the park.
They claimed that the number of feline population in forest was 55 as the ultras did not disturb the natural habitat of wildlife.
Meetings were held in villages where the villagers were educated to protect the wildlife. A three-tier security arrangement was made to preserve the tiger Meanwhile, an NGO claimed ''there is not a single tiger in the Park as they all crossed over to the Maharashtra border and complaints regarding poaching have been received''.
Bastar Prakriti Bachao Samiti Convenor Sharadchandra Verma said the Maharashtra government has been planning to set up a sanctuary along the Chhattisgarh border.
''As per the 2005 census, there are 22 tigers, 49 bisons and 24 leopards in the park,'' Forest Convenor Shetty Pannavar said, but declined to divulge the present status of the wild animals.
''Fool-proof census in the park is not possible following naxal activities,'' he added.
UNI XC-KV SP RP HS1653