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Striped Mirages; No males, so tigress translocation a farce

OUTLOOK Magazine
23 March 2009, Chandrani Banerjee

None To Count

  • The Panna tiger sanctuary had 35 tigers at the beginning of the decade. Now, experts say it has none.
  • The relocation of tigresses to Panna for mating is meaningless.
  • An SC-appointed panel has been very critical of Panna's neglect.
  • Strangely, Panna won a Central award in 2007 as the best managed and tourist friendly wildlife park.

Over the last fortnight, the Madhya Pradesh government moved two tigresses from Bandhavgarh sanctuary to the Panna tiger reserve.

Apparently, this was aimed at enhancing the "dwindling tiger population" by encouraging the big cats to mate. But wildlife experts rubbish the state government effort: they say the big question is whether there are any male tigers at all in Panna. Some are inclined to believe there's not one left.

Experts pooh-pooh the state government's experiment in taking Bandhavgarh tigresses to Panna for mating.

"There are no tigers in Panna now," says Dr Raghunandan Singh Chundawat, a conservationist who radio-collared 35 tigers in Panna over the past decade. "The only male tiger forest officials in Panna talk of hasn't been sighted in one and a half months." And Valmik Thapar, a conservationist and member of the National Board for Wildlife, says, "I have reliably learnt that Madhya Pradesh recently sought a male tiger. If there's already one in the reserve, why has it requested another?"

Interestingly, a January 2009 study by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to assess the tiger population in the sanctuary drew a blank. Its interim report offers no definite evidence of the presence of any tigers in Panna. Recounting the disappearances, Chundawat notes that the first tiger went missing in October 2002, the second was found dead in December that year, and the third was found dead in the summer of 2003. Then a tigress disappeared in April 2004, with unconfirmed reports indicating that she was poisoned. When close monitoring began ten years ago, the tiger population was 35. But Chundawat and others say neglect and poaching have wiped out all of them.

Two weeks ago, Chundawat submitted a report to the President, the prime minister, and the Union environment & forest ministry, detailing the decimation of tigers and how the Panna population is down to zero. He has also alerted the Madhya Pradesh forest department.

But the state government is in a state of denial, and claims there are 16-22 big cats in Panna. Madhya Pradesh environment & forest minister Rajendra Shukla told Outlook: "I agree the tiger count has gone down...with the translocations from Bandhavgarh, there's an attempt to enhance the tiger population. Soon, the situation will improve."

That optimism isn't shared by experts, who have over the past decade voiced concern over the disappearing tiger in India. Panna came into particular focus in April 2004, when the Wildlife Protection Society of India filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court, blaming poaching and the felling of thousands of trees along the roads—apparently to give visitors a better view—for eliminating what the reserve was meant to protect.

Thapar, who was a special invitee on a committee set up two months ago by the Union environment & forest ministry to help Madhya Pradesh with the translocation, says, "For four years the state indulged in denials at the cost of Panna's tiger population that has nearly gone extinct." That, experts like Chundawat say, held true in January; now there are simply no tigers in Panna.




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