No more tigers in Panna, confirms Central probe team

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No more tigers in Panna, confirms Central probe team

Neha Sinha Posted online: Wednesday, Jun 24, 2009 at 0906 hrs

New Delhi : It’s official. There are no tigers left in Madhya Pradesh’s Panna tiger reserve.

Rampant poaching and total “denial for the past eight years” have led to the extinction of tigers there, a Central investigation has revealed.

The state government denied any crisis even as tigers were regularly being poached for eight years between 2002 and 2009, an extensive report prepared by a Special Investigative Team (SIT) set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests has found.

The SIT was constituted to investigate the extinction of tigers from Panna this year, which till 2007 held at least 24 tigers.

“The tiger population has shown decline with no ecological reasons, supporting the notion that poaching was a major cause of local tiger extinction in Panna,” says the report. “It cannot be compared with Sariska (where tigers went extinct in 2005) because warning bells were sounded regularly for the last eight years.”

A string of warnings, given by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), independent scientists and NGOs were ignored between 2002 and 2008 as Madhya Pradesh concentrated on ‘tourism and welfare’ and senior officials looked the other way, says the report.

“The team felt that Panna was a very special case because the management received so many cautions and warning letters from different agencies. It has been observed by the team that Government of Madhya Pradesh was always in a denial mode that there was crisis in Panna,” the report says.

“The advisories/guidelines and red alerts on protection and monitoring protocols issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), time and again, were not followed in action and spirit. Even newspaper warnings were ignored,” it says. The Indian Express had reported in March this year that there were no tigers left in Panna, which the MP Forest Department denied.

The team said that ‘intelligence-gathering was never important’ for Panna tiger reserve and the failure was from the highest level. For the investigation, field directors between 2002 and 2009 were questioned and MP police poaching records were accessed. For the same period, the report says, “Senior officers of the rank of PCCF and Chief Wildlife Warden and Additional PCCF Wildlife visited the reserve number of times. Nowhere in their tour report has it been mentioned that the reserve was facing problems which could be a cause of disappearance of tiger. The Principal Secretary Forest was least concerned about tigers in the reserve. The entire department in Bhopal was busy corresponding with scientists, individuals, NGOs and even members of the CEC denying facts even without verification.”

“This is a situation much worse than Sariska,” P K Sen, former Director, Project Tiger and a member of the team, told The Indian Express. “In Sariska, the tigers were lost mostly over one year. The Panna crisis is unprecedented as the negligence went on for eight whole years. In 2001, tiger scientist Raghu Chundawat said that a tiger he had collared was suddenly gone. His plea was dismissed by the state. MP has perfected the art of denial. If the state could not handle the reserve, the department should have acknowldeged this. The way forward is simple. Unless you admit there is a problem, you can’t find the solution.”

The other members of the team were: Qamar Qureshi, Scientist, Wildlife Institute of India, Chaturbhuja Behera, Regional Deputy Director, Jabalupur, Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, and S. P. Yadav, DIG, National Tiger Conservation Authority (Member Convener).

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