Located in Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, Simlipal with its dense green forests, hilly terrain, broad open valleys, plateaus, grasslands, and rich bio-diversity has the unique distinction of being a Tiger Reserve, a National Park, a Wildlife Sanctuary, an Elephant Reserve, and a Biosphere Reserve. Such is the hidden beauty of the place that in the November of 1936, Padmashree Kalindi Charan Panigrahi penned the following lines for Simlipal:
“What song do I sing for you, tell me O Simlipal
My blood has frozen, my bones have melted;
And my dearest of memories, from a memorable past,
All but forgotten, in your visual blast.”
Covering a vast area of 2750 km2 Simlipal has a core area of 303 km2. With a wide range of rainfall and edaphic variations, from dry deciduous to moist green forests, it is nesting grounds to many species of flora and fauna. About 1076 species of mammals, 29 types of reptiles and 231 species of birds are in this plateau. The major mammals include tiger, leopard, Asian elephant, sambar, barking deer, gaur, jungle cat, wild boar, chausingha (four horned antelope), giant squirrel and common langur.
The average mean elevation of Simlipal is 900 meters. There are tall Sal trees in large numbers. The peaks of Khairiburu (1178 meters), Meghasani (1158 meters) are some of the highest peaks in Odisha. While sweetly scented champak flowers aromatize the air, the richly hued orchids on the green foliage add to the beauty. Several rivers like Budhabalanga, Khairi, Salandi and Palpala originate from the hills and meander through the forest. Many of them have cascading rapids and foaming falls before leaving for the plains.
A part of the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves since 2009, Simlipal is nature at its best.
Khairi the Tigress: Mr. Saroj Raj Choudhury was the first field director of Simlipal Project Tiger and foster father of tigress Khairi. It was late winter of October 1974. The mother of Khairi with three cubs came to the dense abode of Simlipal for drinking water from the river. The mother was training the children to face various eventualities in the wilderness.
It is from this core area of the tiger reserve from where the tiger cub Khairi was recovered. The Khadia tribe is expert in the collection of honey, resin, and other minor forests produce. This is their daily source of livelihood. They are very brave. A group of individuals of the Khadia tribe first saw a tigress with three cubs near the Khairi river. The Khadias beat the empty metal container they had carried for the collection of honey from the forests.
The winter is the period when plenty of honey is collected from Similipal forests with other items like resin. Tamarind and mushrooms too are found during the time. The tigress did not attack the tribals but rather fled the spot with two cubs leaving the third one behind, which was weak and slim, not capable of escaping from the site.
When the mother tigress left the bank of the Khairi river, the Khadias captured the third cub and brought it to a forest camp. It was immediately brought to the notice of the forest officials.
Choudhury was the then conservator of forests and was in-charge of Similipal tiger conservation project.
He took charge of Khairi without any hesitation. Nursing the cub as a foster father, he named it Khairi as the cub was recovered from the bank of river Khairi. The cub was a female one. She grew very fast due to proper care and nourishment aided by proper dieting and medical attainment.
In subsequent years, the cub served as a basis of a detailed study of the animalist behavior of a Royal cat. The tigress was so domesticated that she was very acquainted with the people dressed in Khaki uniform, who came in and out of Choudhury’s residence. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was personally informed about Khairi and its close association with human beings. Similipal was famous all over the country and abroad for the human-tiger association. Similipal also drew a large amount of visitor traffic for its tiger population and natural beauty.
With years, Khairi became unruly and would venture deep into the jungle in search of a male partner. In 1981, Khairi died of rabies. Choudhury was shaken with her demise and died the same year. [Article by Nadia Chand in Daily Pioneer]