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The tiger's return to Panna reflects a welcome break from conservation as usual.
In Madhya Pradesh's Panna tiger reserve, a quiet but significant success. Tigers had been wiped out from the forests of Panna by February 2009. A month later, two tigers from neighbouring MP reserves were introduced there. Five years later, the reserve has a problem of plenty, with a population of 23 tigers. Panna has achieved the near-impossible — a successful relocation of tigers from one reserve to another. It presents a sharp contrast to Sariska, where a much-hyped relocation project started in 2008 makes halting progress. So what went right in MP?
Relocating big cats across reserves in India is a delicate, risky experiment, threatened at every step by poachers, a loss of habitat and a depleting prey base. Tigers, strongly territorial animals, need to be acclimatised to the new habitat — the male tiger introduced in Panna initially kept following his homing instincts to the nearby Pench reserve. Sariska, though reportedly equipped with an ample prey base, must fend off hostile local populations in the surrounding villages and deal with the problem of low breeding among the big cats. But the biggest battle that Panna has won may be against poaching. MP's tiger reserves have reportedly introduced patrolling round the clock and the state forest department has set up a cyber cell to track poachers. Panna, moreover, will become a test case for using drones to monitor wildlife reserves. The National Tiger Conservation Authority is scheduled to test fly drones there starting January 9.
The story of conservation across India's reserves has tended to be one of knee-jerk responses and blunt instruments, whether it is the Maharashtra government's shoot-on-sight order for poachers or the Supreme Court's blanket ban on tourism in core areas in 2012. The Panna turnaround, achieved through consistent monitoring and sustained initiative, is a welcome change.
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