December 26 has special significance for the Panna Tiger Reserve management and staff because on this day in 2009, T3–the male tiger relocated from Pench to repopulate this habitat, was located, tranquilised and brought back by the Panna team 30 days after the big cat started moving in the South direction and travelled almost 442 kilometres through Chhatarpur, Sagar and Damoh districts and was heading towards his original habitat.
Chasing the tiger was a huge challenge for the Panna team since time was a crucial factor as the foresters were aware that the poachers could kill the tiger any moment while it was roaming outside the Protected Area. The Panna team which went searching for the tiger was supported by 70 smaller teams. Four elephants were also deployed in this massive search opeation.
T3 has sired most of the litters produced under the ambitious Panna Reintroduction Project. More than 32 cubs have been born in 14 litters since December 2009 and 6 of these have died. Of these 7 tigers have made the entire Bundelkhand region their territory while a family of 22 tigers resides in the Park area.
T3 has the credit of discovering the Panna Tiger Reserve-Nauradehi corridor during his 30 days of wandering outside the Panna area. Similarly another Panna tiger–Panna-212 created history by discovering the Panna-Bandhavgarh-Sanjay Tiger Reserve corridor pairing with a tigress in the Sanjay Tiger Reserve.
For those associated with the Panna Tiger Reintroduction Project from its inception, T3 is a real hero. He symbolises the threat any tiger would face once it leaves the Protected Area. Once T3 left the park area in November 2009, the Panna Tiger Reserve management and the State wildlife wing gave the clear message to the National Tiger Conservation Authority that there is zero security for the endangered tigers in the buffer areas or the corridors connecting the Protected Areas. Inquiries at that time had revealed that the forest team that was trying to track the tiger while it was moving outside the park area had lost its line of sight perhaps due to obstructions and a rocky terrain and had no idea about its whereabouts for seven days from November 29 onwards. The only saving grace was the fact that a villager had spotted the tiger in the forest of Nayakheda at Pipartola-Gopalpura on December 2. It was on December 7, 2009 that the tiger was relocated in the Patrikota forest on the border of Chhattarpur and Sagar districts.
This tiger was first tranquilized on November 6 at Pench and was brought to Panna Tiger Reserve, where it was left in an enclosure at Badagarhi inside the Park area. Due to technical and logistical reasons, the Tiger was brought to Panna without radio-callar. The Tiger was watched for 7 days and a team of expert veterinarians, including Parag Mishra (Wildlife Institute of India), A.B Shrivastav (Jabalpur Veterinary College), Sandeep Agrawal (Kanha Tiger Reserve), Akhilesh Mishra (Pench Tiger Reserve), Sanjeev Gupta (Panna Tiger Reserve), led by the State Chief Conservator of Wildlife, Dharmendra Shukla had decided to tranquilize the tiger for the second time on November 13. The next day, the tiger was left free in the Tiger Reserve. He remained there till November 25 and started traveling southwards.
The tiger traveled more than 400 kms, which is the first example of its kind. He crossed even the town of Garhakota, which was 250 kms from the Badagarhi enclosure inside the Park area. There was no dearth of anxiety among the Panna Tiger Reserve managers and others involved in tracking the tiger at this stage, as they were afraid that the tiger could be poisoned and killed by villagers or poachers. There was also the threat of local shikaris (local villagers engaged in hunting the herbivores). The forest team could keep track of the tiger, which was radio-collared, till November 29. The forest team, led by V.S Parihar, DFO Panna Tiger Reserve, had even succeeded in driving it back almost 30 kms towards the Tiger Reserve. Soon however the tiger gave the slip and began moving in the southern direction. At this juncture, the forest team was confronted with the big question. Whether to tranquilize the tiger once again? The issue was “will it survive in the path it was moving.” There was also the risk of tranquilizing the tiger for the third time within a short period. The team on the spot, which included the member secretary National Tiger Conservation Authority, Rajesh Gopal, State PCCF Wildlife, R.S. Negi, Chief Conservator of forest, J.S. Chauhan, Panna Tiger Reserve Director, Srinivas Murthy and Dr. Ramesh (Wildlife Institute of India), finally decided to tranquilize the tiger once more. Tranquilizing the tiger in poor visibility and more particularly near the Bewas River in the midst of rock cliffs was a big challenge. On December 19, an attempt was made to tranquilize the tiger but it slipped away and hid in a sugar cane field in the Madaiyya village of Sagar district and at night crossed over to the Noradehi forest. From here the tiger moved over to the Taradehi forest where it was tranquilized on December 25 and was brought back and left in the Panna Tiger Reserve at 4 am on December 26.