Panna: A success story of tiger relocation that started a decade ago
It was ten years back on March 3, 2009, that T1 tigress from Bandhavgarh was brought to Panna National Park that had lost its entire tiger population to poaching in the preceding decade, and the work of repopulating the reserve –a pioneering attempt in the state – started.
Panna was the second tiger reserve in India after Sariska to loose all its native tigers. Though tigers were repopulated in Sarsika before Panna, the latter has three times the number of the tigers than in the former.
Over the years the group of seven founder tigers (five females and two males) have mated over 30 times and produced over 80 plus cubs and now it has become one of the major success stories in the country, said forest officials and environmentalists.
“We now have 47 plus adults, sub-adults and cubs in the 576 sq km area of the reserve forest and there are around 15 more in the buffer and local landscape that includes Lalitpur and Chitrakoot,” says the Panna Reserve field director K S Bhadoriya.
Sariska has 14 tigers.
The task was an arduous, recalls then Panna field director R Sreenivasa Murthy. “The task of introducing the tigers to a new environment was a challenge, in addition the locals were hostile, and the staff demotivated because the forest department was held responsible for the loss of tigers,” Murthy recalled.
Murthy said, on March 6, 2009, T2 from Kanha was brought and on November 6 same year, T3 a male was brought from Pench to avoid any chances of inbreeding. But T3 instead of going towards the females went towards populated areas mid November, alarming the forest officials.
“For 10 days there was no trace even though it was radio-collared. Then we got its location and for the next 30 days we tracked it with help of elephants. Apart from forest officials the locals were also involved. T3 was re-caught on December 25, and brought back to the forest and the area of his release was sprinkled with urine of female tigress which was brought from Bhopal zoo. T3 stayed in the forest and mated with T1 and the first litter of four was born on April 16 (2010), and another four cubs were born to T2 in October,” said Murthy.
To rope in the locals the Panna Nature Club was started where children and villagers were brought inside the park and sensitized. “Day long activities are held under the camp which is held between November and February are popular and seats are booked almost immediately,” said Bhadoriya.
Forest officials say that over the years, tigers from Panna have gone to Bandhavgarh (T71), in Ranipur forests of Chitrakoot (P212-22), another tiger captured in Rewa was released in Sanjay Gandhi National park, while another one was sent Satpura National Park. Some official say that this migration might be due to overpopulation of tigers in the park.
Conservation biologist and author of book based on Panna tigers “The Rise and Fall of the Emerald Tigers” Raghu Chundawat says, “Panna is a rare success story, but the challenges remain the same. Apart from poaching, biological studies into why there is a tendency of female tigers getting killed more frequently than males needs to be done, otherwise it won’t be possible to sustain tiger populations anywhere.”
Bhadoriya agrees that challenges remain and lists another one. “At present water scarcity is a major challenge, especially during summers when due to the rocky terrain the temperatures rises to over 45 degrees celcius and everything dries up. Underground water too is difficult to find in this region.”