Category Archives: Wildlife

A loud and clear message from T3-the Panna Tiger

Lalit Shastri

T3 (1)

One salutes the indefatigable spirit of T3-the tiger, who has become a mascot for the ambitious Panna Tiger Reintroduction
Project being carried out to repopulate the Panna Tiger Reserve with Tigers. This project was taken up since not a single big cat was left in this habitat in 2009.

T3 is a true hero…. he sent a clear message to everybody when he left the Panna Park area and wandered across three districts and traveled more than 400 kilometers crossing villages and even a town as if trying to return to Pench Tiger Reserve–his original home and abode from where he had been brought to Panna. The message from T3 is loud and clear…”save the buffer areas and corridors…keep them free of poachers and the villagers who poison the waterholes, destroy the salt licks and set up snares and hook up naked wires on high-tension electricity lines to kill wildlife. When caught, they pop up the excuse that they do this to protect their crops (on land which was earlier a forest but progressively has been encroached by the unscrupulous people).”

Unfortunately, the politics of populism has allowed the population to multiply in geometric progression and this is a huge problem we are encountering in India. The population growth rate of the Central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh is higher
than the national growth rate. This despite the fact that mortality rate in the State is also much higher than that of the corresponding figure of the country.

According to one of the latest sample registration system, Madhya Pradesh recorded an average total fertility rate (TFR) of 3.2., which is much higher than the national average. The total fertility rate (TFR) was highest with 6.6 per woman in Chhatarpur, followed by Tikamgarh and neighbouring Panna district with 6.1 and 5.9 children per woman respectively. A large number of these women are tribals. They belong to that section of the population that is most deprived in terms of per capita income, education, basic amenities and human resource development. These people are still in the gathering (minor forest produce collection) and foraging stage. Whatever rudimentary agriculture practices they follow, it is largely on land that is being encroached generation after generation. This is done by clear-felling and setting the forests on fire……the devastation as a consequence adds to the massive change in land use one is witnessing due to mining and other development related activities.

Today we are at the cross-roads. We are also carrying the burden of the Forest Rights Act 2006 [Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act]. During the formulation of the Bill ahead of the enactment at the behest of the Manmohan Singh led UPA-1 Government at the Centre, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests had taken a strong posture against the Bill. The MoEF had then said that the approach adopted in the proposed Bill would lead to irreparable ecological damage of immense proportion. Decimation of forests as a result of enactment of the proposed Act, was also likely to lead to more frequent and intense natural calamities like floods and soil erosion that would adversely be affecting the livelihood of people. The MoEF had issued the warning that “the enactment of the proposed Bill would also leave an adverse impact on the precious biological diversity, wildlife and the natural resource base for maintenance of carbon, nitrogen and oxygen cycles.” While recognising the traditional rights of tribals over their “ancestral domain”, the MoEF had said
that the Bill was likely to cause more damage, without significant benefit to the tribals in the long run. MoEF even had emphasized that the Forests are a “national natural resource and hence the whole population of the country enjoys rights over
this natural resource either in tangible terms or intangible terms”. Therefore it is the duty of every citizen to protect the forests and environment as per the Directive principles laid down in the Constitution, the MoEF said while taking the stand that the whole issue should be looked at from perspectives of ecological science, equity and overall costs to the entire society.

Before we reach a point of no return…there is need for a post-mortem of all that we have already destroyed. It will help in charting a course which is greener, ecology friendly, conservation oriented and sustainable from the point of view of forests and wildlife, biodiversity, water table and survival of humankind. the Tiger Reserves or the protected areas that we have created will be like bowls or oasis in a vast desert if we do not mend our ways and take remedial measures on a war footing. The alarm bells are ringing loud. For those who care, these bells have started ringing at ear-splitting and sharply rising decibel. It is high time the politicians see the writing on the wall.

 

T3-the real hero of Panna Tiger Reserve

Lalit Shastri

T3-The Tiger
T3-The Tiger

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.

T3-Corridor
T3-Corridor

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.

Joy of Birding

Lalit Shastri

Grey-headed flycatcherIt was a bright sunny afternoon; the year was 1998; some time in April, when I heard a pleasant trilling sound of a bird just outside my window as I worked on my news story of the day. At that time I was working for The Hindu as Principal Correspondent for Madhya Pradesh in central India.

The continuous proclamation of the bird’s presence touched the chord of anxiety and without losing any time, I was out gazing through the thicket and the entangled shoots and branches of my Bougainvillea tree to spot the bird singing those beautiful notes. Oh what a delight it was to witness for the first time the grandeur of a grey-headed mango-yellow bird, the size of a sparrow. I kept gazing at the bird but remained unsatatiated though the avian delight stayed hooked to the same branch for a long time oblivious of my presence.

This one episode came as a turning point in my life. It kindled in me the desire to explore, to learn, and to know as much as I could about the wonderful world of birds. That evening, after I had completed my day’s work, I was at a book shop looking for an illustrated book on birds. My friend Ajit Sonakia, a fantastically committed and learned forester, with whom I had discussed my experience earlier that day, told me to go for “The Book of Indian Birds” by the immortal ornithologist Salim Ali.

I bought the book and before returning home went to another shop and purchased a Panasonic VHS handycam (in those days, DV cams had not hit the market), an equipment I could barely afford. Armed with The Book of Indian Birds and the handycam, I started my journey as an upcoming birder. It was a learning experience when I could, for the first time, relate the image in my mind with the most congruent picture—that of a Grey-headed Flycatcher in Salim Ali’s book , which has become a constant companion and is a bible for birding.