After Panna's successful rewilding, Sariska is sanguine
First there was the Sariska debacle in which all the tigers were found missing in the reserve in Rajasthan's Alwar district sometime in 2004-05. Then there was similar misfortune in Madhya Pradesh's Panna Tiger Reserve in February 2009 — the wild cats became extinct there.
Sariska led the way soon by reintroducing tigers under a recovery plan with the support of the National Tiger Conservation Authority in June 2008.
Panna followed suit in March 2009. It reintroduced one female each from Bhandavgarh and Kanha. Thereafter, it appears, both the reserves charted their own journeys.
The Panna experiment turned out to be a big success. The 576-sq.km reserve, spread over Panna and Chattarpur districts eof Madhya Pradesh, soon became home to a flourishing population of big cats. The reserve, 25 km from Khajuraho, once ravaged by problems, has now 12 tiger cubs, besides the five adults brought in as part of the reintroduction. And that gives Sariska, the leader, a complex, for its three tigresses are yet to give a litter.
The tale of the two reserves came in for comparison this weekend at Alwar when the main protagonists of the tiger reintroduction process got together to discuss the rebuilding of Sariska.
“Where there is a will there is a way,” said R. Sreenivasa Murthy, Field Director in the Panna Tiger Reserve, giving a presentation on tiger relocation and their successful breeding.
The Panna story included the truancy of the lone male, which apparently showed “homing” instincts to repeatedly move in the direction of Pench — it had to be brought back with the help of 70-strong forest staff and four elephants for a second time.
The Panna experiment did not stop at just reintroduction. The park authorities opened a new chapter in conservation by introducing two orphaned female cubs to the reserve in March 2011. They were the litters of a collared tigress that got killed in a fight with another in Kanha in May 2005. They were picked up and hand-reared for one-and-half years to be released into an enclosure in Kanha.
“The Panna team met with success in the rewilding of the tiger. One of them, T4, delivered cubs in November 2011,” said Mr. Murthy.
Mr. Murthy and H.S. Pabla, who retired last year as the Chief Wildlife Warden of Madhya Pradesh, said they did their part and left the rest to the tigers. “In Sariska, females ST2 and ST3, showed signs of pregnancy but no litters were produced. The cause of not breeding is not known,” said K. Sankar, scientist with the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, who has been part of the Sariska experiment. “There appears to be no disturbance to the tigers. The prey density is one of the best in the country. However, the human habitation inside the park surely is an obstacle. In fact, the Sariska tigers have only 50 sq.km in the 882-sq.km reserve for themselves.”
While some experts, including Sunayan Sharma, president of the Sariska Tiger Foundation, which organised the workshop, felt that the radio collars around their necks might be hampering the breeding, others emphatically dismissed it as inconsequential. “There is no connection between the radio collar and breeding,” said Dr. Sankar. “We have consulted the NTCA and they are of the opinion that collars cannot be the reason,” said U.M. Sahai, Head of the Forest Force, Rajasthan.
What made all the difference in Panna? “I have no explanation why tigers are not breeding in Sariska and they do in Panna,” said Mr. Pabla. His suggestion to the Rajasthan authorities in this connection included introduction of breeding tigresses — instead of virgins — and not to have too many males around. Mr. Murthy said the presence of elephants in Panna was of great help to tigers. Moreover, Panna had an advantage of not having any village inside.
Raghuveer Singh Shekhawat, Field Director, Sariska Tiger Reserve, is confident of a breakthrough in the reserve.
“What is all this fuss about litters? We need to leave certain [things] for the tigers to decide,” said Samir Sinha, author and head of TRAFFIC India.