The State Wildlife Organisation came into being in 1974 as a sequel to adoption of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 on 14 August 1974; and promulgation of the Wildlife (Protection) (Orissa) Rules, 1974. The Conservator of Forests, Development Circle was designated as the Ex-Officio Chief Wildlife Warden, Orissa. In the year 1976, a distinct Wildlife Organisation was constituted with the Chief Wildlife Warden being posted in the rank of Conservator of Forests.
The present Wildlife Organisation headed by Additional Principal Chief Conservator Forest (Wildlife) has a Field Director, Tiger Reserve; a Director, Nandankanan Zoo; a Conservator of Forests (Wildlife); three Senior Research Officers and fourteen Deputy Conservators. There are twelve Wildlife Divisions each in charge of a Deputy Conservator of Forests. Each Sanctuary / National Park is part of a Wildlife Division except in three cases, namely Kotgarh, Lakhari and Karlapat Sanctuaries.
A State Wildlife Advisory Board was constituted in the year 1982 to function as an advisory body to the State Govt. on matters relating to wildlife. In 2003 the advisory body has been reconstituted as the State Board for Wildlife, with the Chief Minister as the Chairman.
Eighteen Sanctuaries, a National Park and one proposed National Park constitute the Protected Area network of Orissa that covers 6611.12sq.km of land area which is 4.25% of the geographical area and 11.37% of the forest area of the state. Added to this is also a stretch of 20km wide marine habitat of 1408sq.kms of seascape in Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary.
Bhitarkanika was constituted as the first sanctuary in the State under the provisions of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and was notified in April 1975. Other Sanctuaries to follow were Satkoshia Gorge (1976), Hadgarh (1978), Similipal and Nandankanan (1979), Baisipalli and Kotagarh (1981), Chandaka, Karlapat and Khalasuni (1982), Kuldiha and Balukhand (1984), Lakhari and Debrigarh (1985), Badrama and Chilika-Nalaban (1987), Sunabeda (1988) and Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary (1997).
The Bhitarkanika National Park was finally notified in the year 1998, and the notification of Similipal proposed National Park was issued in two phases in 1980 and in 1986
One of the premier 'large' Zoos of the country, the Nandankanan Zoological Park, was established in 1960 over an area of 3.62sq.kms, in a natural setting. The zoo has 1109 animals of 151 species (460 mammals of 49 species, 536 birds of 75 species and 113 reptiles of 27 species); housed in 93 enclosures (Cages-58, Moated-35). The White Tiger Safari, Lion Safari, Aquarium, Aviary, Orangutan, Chimpanzee, Toy Train, Boating and Aerial Ropeway are some of the prime attractions of this Zoo. During 2003-04, there were 13, 37,364 lakh visitors to the Zoo, and the Zoo earned gross revenue of Rs. 89, 29, 602/-.
'Similipal' was chosen as one of the nine prime locations for Tiger conservation under the 'Project Tiger' launched in the year 1973 in the country. In a span of thirty years Similipal Tiger Reserve has emerged a leader in tiger management and monitoring. Here the tiger population has increased more than 3-fold, (from 30 in 1975 to 101 in 2004); and an array of biodiversity features has received protection under the umbrella of tiger conservation. Project Tiger in Similipal has been a beacon for most other wildlife management activities in the state. New areas with potentiality for tiger conservation in the state have been identified, and proposed to be designated Tiger Reserves under the Project Tiger.
A different aspect of tiger conservation is the string of efforts put in to generate a population of white tigers. After the birth of white tiger cubs in Nandankanan in January, 1980 to parents appearing normal in colour, a systematic breeding programme was implemented. The Zoo holds the largest collection of white tigers (now, 10) in any zoo in the country. These white tigers have been used to procure rare animals from other zoos in the country and abroad in exchange.
The crocodile conservation programme was launched in the state in 1974-75. The Gharial species, determined as 'facing imminent extinction' has now a very successful breeding record in captivity and a good chance of survival if suitable wild habitats can be delineated. The saltwater crocodile, designated as 'endangered in 1975' has now a viable population of 1358 in Bhitarkanika Sanctuary, the most promising place for these crocodiles in the entire country. The sighting of crocodile nests in the sanctuary has gone up from only 6-7 nests in the eighties to over 50. The mugger, concluded 'to be depleting faster than it could reproduce' has well established breeding centres in Nandankanan and Ramatirtha, and population of above 60 in the Satkoshia Gorge.
Elephant conservation programme under Project Elephant was launched in the year 1991. Three Elephant Reserves (ERs), namely Mayurbhanj ER, Mahanadi ER and Sambalpur ER were notified in the years 2001 and 2002 to offer more focused protection to about 50% of the state's elephant population using 8509sq.km The ER-Network is being expanded to 14884sq.kms of forest habitat to offer protection to over 90% of the 1841 elephants now inhabiting the state.
Sea turtle conservation was started in the year 1976. About 50% of the total world population of Olive Ridleys that equals to about 90% of the Indian population of sea turtles uses the Orissa coasts for nesting. The nesting intensities of sea turtles are monitored and the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary has been constituted for protection of turtles using the main nesting beach. The Coast guard, State Fisheries Department, and the FAO/UNDP have been brought in to collaborate in turtle conservation activities.
The constitution of Similipal Biosphere Reserve over an area of 5569sq.km in 1994 is an additional support to the management inputs started in the year 1973 under Project Tiger and the sustenance of the same under the State Wildlife Organisation.
In-house capability for research on wildlife was acquired and developed along with the launching of crocodile conservation programme and it has expanded to all other faculties of wildlife management and conservation projects. Three Senior Research Officers, with international repute form the nuclei of this capability.
Awards in Recognition of Service under Project Tiger were received in 1979 and in 1993 by Mr. Mantribar Mohanta, Forest Guard for their services in Similipal Tiger Reserve.
Sarojraj Choudhury-----, the first Field Director of Similipal Tiger Reserve, the father of contemporary wildlife education in the country, the foster father of tigress Khairi, and the one who provided the technique for the first All India Tiger Census in 1972 and designed the simple instrument called 'tiger tracer' to bring pugmark impressions from the field to analysis room, ------- was posthumously awarded "Padmashree" in the year 1983.
The WWF Tiger Conservation Award for significant and innovative contribution towards tiger conservation was conferred in 1999 to Dr. L. A. K. Singh, the Wildlife Research Officer of the Orissa Wildlife Organisation.
Nandankanan Zoological Park received "Pollution Control Appreciation Award-2003", instituted by State Pollution Control Board, Orissa.