Panna could be next Sariska, alarm bells ring over no tiger sightings

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Panna could be next Sariska, alarm bells ring over no tiger sightings
Thursday December 20, 02:23 AM
The Gods have been invoked, even official cash rewards announced. But nothing has helped in finding a tiger in the Panna tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh.
Government officials claim the sightings have gone down because of an anti-dacoit operation being carried out in the region and that hundreds of policemen inside the reserve has resulted in the displacement of tigers. But locals and tiger experts are expressing fears that there might not be many tigers left in Panna. Some go to the extent of comparing it with Sariska in Rajasthan, which is now completely devoid of tigers.
A team from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which is carrying out a comprehensive study of the tiger population in the country, put the number of tigers in Panna at 24, in its preliminary estimations announced in May. But last week, shortly before it is due to submit its final report, the National Tiger Conservation Authority has asked the team to go back to Panna and reassess its figures.
Said Rajesh Gopal, member-secretary of the Authority: “Some people raised concerns that the tiger numbers are falling. We have asked the WII team to go back in the next two-three days to record the presence of tigers through camera trapping. Then only a clear picture will emerge.”
This has been prompted by an increasing number of reports that Panna, at best, might not have more than four or five tigers left. A bigger question mark hangs over the presence of female tigers. In the last three months, starting October, there have hardly been any tiger sightings in the reserve.
Shyamendra Singh, who runs a tourist camp inside the reserve for the last 21 years and is a member of the MP Wildlife Board keeps a record of every tiger sighting by his guests. He vouches only for two sightings – of different tigers – since October. “It’s a serious crisis, I am convinced there are no more than five tigers left in the reserve. That would be the outer limit,” he says pointing out that not just sightings, but pugmarks, too, are absent.
Additional Chief Conservator of Wildlife in Madhya Pradesh H S Pabla claims as many as 20 sightings since October but, incidentally, all of them by the forest officials and not by tourists.
“Right now, we do not have much to worry about. But of course, we are constantly assessing the situation,” he said. Pabla was in Delhi yesterday and left for Panna the next morning on what he said was a “routine” visit.
A bigger question, as well-known researcher Raghunandan Singh Chundawat points out, is whether there are any female tigers left in the reserve. Pabla said the 20 sightings by forest officials included females as well. But Shyamendra Singh remembers just one tigress sighting by forest guards in October.
A pointer to the crisis is the fact that the tiger reserve has announced cash rewards for people who are able to find a tigress: Rs 10,000 has been announced for the sighting of a tigress with cubs, and Rs 2000 for a tigress. A week back, local people reportedly also performed a puja inside the reserve to invoke a legendary baba who is supposed to have been very dear to the tigers.
WII’s preliminary findings in May, based on the study of tiger populations in four central Indian states, had indicated a sharp decline in the number of tigers since the last count was done. The final report is likely to reflect the same trend with indications being that the total number of tigers in the country would be in the region of 1300-1500 and not 3500 as was believed earlier.

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