As 15 tiger reserves across the country were put on critical alert to check poaching, wildlife scientists said only “one to three” tigers were left in the central Indian reserve of Panna.
The Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which is conducting a tiger survey in Panna following fears of a drastic decline in the population, has been able to catch only one animal on 50 cameras in over a month’s time, government sources, who were not willing to be named, said.
On December 19, HT had reported that there was only one tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) left in Panna, India’s 14th largest tiger reserve; the official number was eight. In 2002, there were 22 tigers in Panna, which is situated in the Vindhyan Range and is spread over 560 sq km in Panna and Chhatarpur districts.
The Panna report is the first major one on tiger population since 2007, when the WII said India’s tiger population had fallen from 3,500 in 2002 to 1,411.
“There may be one to three tigers left in Panna,” Dr VB Mathur, dean, WII, said on January 23 at a meeting of a committee on the relocation of four tigresses to Panna from Bandhavgarh, another tiger reserve in MP, to sustain the existing population.
When HT spoke to Mathur on Thursday, he admitted the initial findings had confirmed the possibility that few tigers were left at Panna but refused to give an estimate. “Wait till we submit our final report in March,” he said about the study initiated in December 2008. Dr H.S. Pabla, chief conservator of forests, Madhya Pradesh, who was also present at the meeting, said he had not heard that “only one tiger was left”.
Asked about WII’s initial finding of there being a maximum of three tigers left in Panna, Pabla said “there was a talk like that” but refused to comment on the animal population until WII submitted its final report.
The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) of the Supreme Court, which is monitoring poaching cases in tiger reserves, blames the MP government for the declining tiger numbers at Panna.
“For three years, we have been telling the MP government that Panna was going the Sariska way. Instead of acting on our advisories, they just tried to prove us wrong. Unfortunately, our prediction has come true,” said M.K. Jivrajkar, a CEC member who has been monitoring the situation in Panna for the past four years. In 2004, there were no tigers left at the Sariska tiger reserve.
Valmik Thapar, a member of National Board for Wildlife, who also participated in the January 23 meeting, said: “The CEC had warned the MP government that Panna was sliding into a Sariska-like situation but they paid no heed. Today, probably one tiger is left in Panna. The responsibility for the debacle at Panna rests squarely on the government’s shoulder.” The state government had blamed the decline in tiger numbers on the presence of dacoits in the reserve in 2007-08.
On Wednesday, the National Tiger Conservation Authority had issued a critical-alert notice to 15 tiger reserves.