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Panna reserve ignored warnings

It took a team of wildlife experts to bring to light the fact that the tiger population in the Panna reserve in Madhya Pradesh had fallen drastically and was nowhere close to 24 tigers as was being claimed by the forest department, reports Chetan Chauhan. See graphics.

delhi Updated: Dec 20, 2008 00:01 IST
Chetan Chauhan

It took a team of wildlife experts to bring to light the fact that the tiger population in the Panna reserve in Madhya Pradesh had fallen drastically and was nowhere close to 24 tigers as was being claimed by the forest department.

In fact, a tiger expert had alerted the government three years ago, but wasn’t taken seriously.

On Friday, HT had reported that only one tiger was left in Panna and the National Tiger Conservation Authority had asked the government to airlift two tigresses from the Bandhavgarh reserve. The tigresses will be relocated by February, authority’s member secretary Rajesh Gopal said.

It was in October that a team from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) sounded an alarm about the fall in tiger population. Until then, the forest department had been claiming that the reserve had 24 tigers. “But when confronted with scientific evidence that showed not a single tigress was left, they admitted to skewed sex ratio,” said a Dehradun-based WII scientist, who didn’t want to be named.

The goings-on in Panna seem like a replay of the events at Sariska, where the big cats vanished in 2004. In both the cases, the governments denied that the tiger population was under threat. Tiger expert Raghu Chandawat had alerted the forest department about the situation three years ago like conservationist Valmik Thapar had done for Sariska in Rajasthan. “When I told them that the tigers were are being killed, they accused me of lying. And, now we’ve only one tiger left,” Chandawat told HT.

This disdain probably explains why only 1,411 tigers (February figures) survive from over 40,000 at the beginning of the 20th century. Rampant killing and pressure of human population on tiger habitat brought the figure down to 2,000 in early 1960s.

Project Tiger was launched 13 years later and the figure improved to 3,500 in 1997, but as demand for tiger parts grew in China and southeast Asia, poachers shot down the population to 1,411. Since February, another 26 tigers had fallen prey, Wildlife Protection Society of India said.