About a month ago, wildlife managers in Madhya Pradesh trying to identify a particular tiger in Bandhavgarh National Park that had made an appearance in the reserve recently were astounded by what they found. The tiger, a massive male, was in fact originally from the Panna National Park, whose forests are located some 150 km as the crow flies.
Tigers are known to move out of areas in an attempt to carve out their own territories. What was however insightful and also satisfying for wildlife managers at the Panna National Park was the park’s turnaround. From a reserve without any tigers in early 2009, it had turned into hub from where tigers had started spreading out to neighbouring habitats, a phenomenon crucial for the survival of healthy tigers, especially since big cat habitats had become fragmented.
Panna National Park was reported tiger-less by December 2008 and a tiger reintroduction programme was initiated in March 2009. The first tigers brought into Panna included a tigress each from Bandhavgarh and Kanha and a tiger from Pench. Eight years after the reintroduction programme, the reserve currently has about 35 tigers, some of which are radiocollared. Former field director of Panna Tiger Reserve, R Sriniwas Murthy, IFS, conducted a research based on photographs available from camera traps at both reserves and concluded on the basis of unique markings that the tiger assigned the call sign T 71 in Bandhavgarh is none other than the tiger P213-21 from Panna National Park. P 213-21 is claimed to have migrated to Bandhavgarh from Panna through this corridor.
Interestingly, the 676 sq km Bandhavgarh tiger reserve too have a high big cat density, with more than 70 tigers. It will not be an easy life for the tiger from Panna as he settles into his new home. Tigers being territorial beings are extremely protective of their turfs. Bandhavgarh has seen a large number of tiger deaths due to infighting in the last few years.
T 71, popularly called Panna Lal in Bandhavgarh, is not the first tiger to move out of the reserve. Earlier a radio-collared tigress, P 212-22, had moved out of the reserve, travelling northwards till it localised in the Ranipur forests in Chitrakoot district of UP. The tigress is said to have given birth to two cubs here. Another tiger from Panna that had moved out of the reserve was recaptured in Rewa and released at the Sanjay Tiger Reserve in Sidhi district. The tiger was attributed with siring a litter of cubs with a local tigress. Yet another tiger that had wandered out of the reserve was captured and sent to the Satpura National Park in Hoshangabad district.
Why are so many tigers moving out of the Panna National Park? The reserve, with an area of 576 sq km, already has about 35 tigers, and seems to be nearing its carrying capacity. Tigers being territorial beings, each specimen carves out its own area leaving the one arriving later to do the same. In many instances, tigers move out of the reserve to carve out their own territory and end up reaching another habitat with a viable tiger population. “It cannot be said with certainty how many tigers the park can support. The prey base in the park is on the increase and more tigers can be accommodated. Tigers too manage to adapt and will live together defying the traditional wisdom that a tiger needs a certain area to itself. But this would happen only if the prey base is adequate,” said AK Jain, field director, Panna National Park.
Most tiger habitats in the country now exist as ‘islands’ and it is against this reality that the spread of the Panna tiger to other habitats gains significance. In MP, forest corridors do not exist between any tiger habitat be in Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Sanjay, Panna, Satpura or Pench that has a metapopulation (group of spatially separated populations of the same species).
By spreading to other reserves, Panna tigers bring variety in genes that are a must for a healthy population that could potentially become weaker due to inbreeding. “Genetic diversity is very important. Many animals have recessive genes that are expressed owing to inbreeding. The offspring born in such cases is genetically inferior,” said RN Saxena, former principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), MP. “In fact, the time is now ripe for parks to engage wildlife biologists that would keep a record of the animals in the reserve and their ancestry. In places where inbreeding is high, specimens can be moved out and replaced with those from other habitats,” he added.
The most important challenge the tigers of Panna are likely to face in the coming years is from the proposed Ken Betwa river link project. As per the DPR (detailed project report), about 61 sq km of critical tiger habitat, presently home to about six to eight tigers in Panna will be submerged. The shrinking of the habitat will become another reason for migration of tigers from Panna. What will be crucial then are corridors that will help this population disseminate to other habitats without coming in conflict with human beings.THE THREAT AHEAD
THE most important challenge the tigers of Panna are likely to face in the coming years is from the proposed Ken Betwa river link project. As per the DPR (detailed project report), about 61 sq km of critical tiger habitat, presently home to about six to eight tigers in Panna will be submerged. Work on Ken Betwa link project is expected to begin by the middle of this year, according to the ministry of water resources. Vijay Goel, minister of state for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation, has said that his ministry has identified five priority links for taking up the work of inter linking of rivers. He said that all clearances have been obtained for the Ken Betwa link project.