Panna reserve has no tigers left
It’s official now. The Panna reserve has become another Sariska having lost all its tigers with a special team of investigators confirming that there have been no big cats in the sanctuary since January this year. A high-level multi-agency team sent to Panna by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) could not confirm reports of a male tiger being spotted in March. Now, not only are there no original Panna tigers left, repopulation will have to wait as the team feels it will be risky to translocate a male tiger in summertime. The earlier translocation of two females and the subsequent request by Panna authorities for a male tiger were clearly attempts to clandestinely repopulate the park and mask the loss of its entire big cat population. While the team nailed the cover-up, there is no official explanation for the disappearance of tigers. The team is expected to revisit the park to establish how the tigers vanished, with poaching an obvious possibility, along with habitat destruction. The culpability of the authorities needs to be established — all the more so as they have refused to heed warnings of independent experts who had raised an alarm. Media reports and the Panna authorities’ telltale request for a male tiger had forced the Centre to act even as the Madhya Pradesh government remained in denial. With tiger numbers dwindling from a reported 35 in 2003 to none in a span of six years, P K Sen, former director of Project Tiger, who was part of the three-member team, said that there was an urgent need to relocate a male tiger to the reserve. ‘‘The last male tiger was apparently spotted at the beginning of March. By now he could either be dead or has strayed away. We suspect that he may also be too old for mating. With two young females here, there is an urgent need to relocate a healthy young male from nearby parks like Kanha or Bandhavgarh. However, this is not going to be possible in summer as it could prove a threat to the animal’s health. The relocation can only happen once monsoon breaks,’’ he said. The NTCA-appointed team is expected to visit Panna again and a formal report on the reasons for the wipeout will be released in a few months. ‘‘It is important that the cause for their disappearance is determined and the responsibility for the same fixed. There are serious implications for the two females in the park right now as one doesn’t even know where they face danger from,’’ said a senior government official. Officials reported that even as recently as three days back, the call of a male had been heard outside the park and efforts were on to locate it. ‘‘We agree that there is no male tiger within the reserve but there has been ample evidence of its presence outside,’’ said an official.