A wildlife intelligence report blaming radio-collaring for the vanishing of tigers from the Panna reserve, 250 km northeast of Bhopal has shocked wildlife scientists.
Panna, one of the oldest homes for tigers in India, is the second reserve after Sariska in Rajasthan to lose all its tigers within the last five years. It has only relocated tigers now.
The National Wildlife Crime Control Bureau report, giving a clean chit to Madhya Pradesh forest department officials, comes at a time when satellite-linked radio collaring is being proclaimed as a sound scientific way to conserve the tiger population.
The number of tigers left in the country is believed to be less than 1,200 (in June 2009), down by 211 from 1,411 in 2006. As many as 47 tigers have died so far this year due to varying causes — from natural death to poaching.
The bureau, which investigates all tiger poaching cases, told Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh recently that the main cause of tiger deaths in Panna, a 545 sq km reserve, where 35 tigers died within a span of seven years, was excessive doses of tranquilisers for radio-collaring, besides poaching.
The bureau, which conducted a special investigation in Panna, said the tranquilisers had affected free movement of tigers, thereby making them vulnerable to poaching.
“The findings are ridiculous,” said Dr Radhu Chandawat, who had radio-collared five tigers in Panna and claimed that none of them died as a result.
Reena Mitra, director of the bureau, told HT that her team had only raised apprehensions regarding the circumstances radio-collaring can create for poaching. “It was just our advisory to the ministry,” she said.
In both Panna and Sariska, tigers brought from other reserves, have been radio-collared to track their daily movements. “All of them are in good health,” said a National Tiger Conservation Authority official who did not want to be named.
Describing the findings as shocking, Dr Pradeep Mallik, a professor with the Wildlife Institute of India, responsible for radio-collaring tigers in Panna, said, “There was not even a single case of poaching of radio-collared tigers between 1996 and 2002 when we were working there.”
Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said the report was being studied. But he admitted that wildlife scientists have rejected the findings categorically. The ministry will give its verdict very soon, Ramesh said.