JAIPUR: If the one-time dacoit-ravaged, poacher-infested Panna National Park in Madhya Pradesh gives a complex to Rajasthan wildlife authorities and conservationists alike, that is all because of female fecundity. By pioneering the conservationist act of re-introducing the tigers in Sariska Tiger Reserve, Rajasthan had blazed the trail in 2008 which the Madhya Pradesh authorities followed by experimenting the same in Panna a year later. However, the latter got the better of Rajasthan as Panna tigers bred after re-introduction and Sariska is sill waiting for its cubs.
The comparison of the two tiger reserves, both of which had lost all of their wild tigers due to poaching, perhaps could not have been avoided when experts from both the States met here on Monday to discuss the challenges ahead for Sariska. Even when it was acknowledged that the Rajasthan forest authorities, the experts from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the National Tiger Conservation Authority who joined together in the country's first experiment in re-introducing tigers did a near-perfect job, breeding issue loomed large in the discussions.
This was especially when Madhya Pradesh's Chief Wildlife Warden H.S. Pabla himself was there to tell their success story. “There is no clear reason for our success in Panna. I would prefer to call it sheer luck!” said a visibly happy but modest Mr. Pabla making a presentation before an audience brought here by the Sariska Tiger Foundation which included veteran conservationist H.S. Panwar, WWF India secretary-general Ravi Singh, V.P. Singh, Rajya Sabha MP and Member, Empowered Committee on Tiger, Rajasthan, and Head of the Forest Force Rajasthan R.N. Mehrotra, besides experts from WII and the local stakeholders.
“I am not yet claiming that Panna is finally successful as there are still many challenges facing us there”, Mr. Pabla said and added: “What we can claim proudly is that both Sariska and Panna shattered the myths on tiger re-introduction in the country.”
The Panna National Park has four tigers re-introduced from various sanctuaries of Madhya Pradesh, including Bandhavgarh and Kanha. The first tigress, T-1, released on March 2009, gave birth to four cubs -- three are surviving-- in April 2010, while T-2 gave birth to three cubs in January this year.
“There was so much criticism when the re-introduction was mooted in Sariska. In the case of Panna, the exercise was carried out against many odds, including the threats from dacoits”, Mr .Ravi Singh said. “WWF will keep supporting Sariska”, he said exuding optimism that the reserve too will “deliver”.
“If it was all our luck, your good luck would come soon,” Mr. Pabla joined in wishing luck. “The message from Panna and Sariska is that tigers have a future in India. They are here to stay,” he asserted. One of the aspects on which Panna differed from Sariska—as pointed out by him-- was that the former's re-introduced tigresses were all with proven fecundity. This was not the case with Sariska where all the three females are yet to be mothers.
The other advantage cited by Mr.Pabla was that unlike Sariska, Panna had tamed elephants mounting on which the park authorities could monitor the tiger movements better.
Curiously, while in Rajasthan at least a group of conservationists are blaming the radio collars for the tigers not reproducing in Sariska even three and a half years after re-introduction, Panna tigers too are fitted with collars -- and that did not stop them from increasing their tribe.