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Tiger campaign: The great Panna cover-up

Panna:  According to wildlife experts Panna Tiger Reserve had two dozen tigers after the census in January 2006, and was left with no tigers by December 2008. However, despite that, no arrests have been made even though it is clear that the tigers were poached.

pannatigerreservestory.jpgIn May 2009, Pana National Reserve was officially declared tiger-less. In June, an embarrassed Madhya Pradesh government ordered an investigation.
 
In the investigation report submitted in March 2010, not a single culprit was identified, in fact all the officers in charge were promoted.
 
It all began in 2005, when Raghu Chundavat, a wildlife scientist found nine tigers he was tracking in Panna missing. His alarm brought down a central investigation team.

Almost on cue, Sanjay Mukhariya, the then Park Director of Panna started the cover-up act.

On March 13, 2005, he said, "There are no less than 34 tigers here. We have decided to conduct the census again.''
 
On his order, Kanha Park Director Aseem Shrivastav conducted a seven-day census using the outdated pugmark method and ostensibly managed to trace all 34 tigers.

By then the Centrally Empowered Committee on Wildlife said that Panna is showing signs of Sariska. This is like an early warning signal. It is necessary to put it right fast before it's too late.
 
Then, in June, 2005 Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests H S Pabla wrote in the Sanctuary Magazine that tiger density in Panna has never been better.
 
Ironically around the same time, a poacher arrested nearby had confessed to having traded eight tigers skins sourced from Panna.
 
In 2008, P B Gangopadhyay, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests wrote to the Centre that Panna desperately needs a female tiger.
 
Here is an excerpt from the letter dated May 19, 2008: "Although in this National Park no sign of decline in number of tiger population is observed, but in recent years paucity of female and cubs is felt in the national park."
 
Within months a Central team came to investigate and declared Panna tiger-less. 
 
Since then each and every officer involved in the cover up has been promoted.
 
Wildlife Activist, Raghu Chundavat says, "Absolutely nothing has happened to people who have failed tigers. That is giving completely wrong signal to the management that leadership is there to protect them what mistake they continue to commit."
 
And so the denial continues. Even now nobody admits that thirty tigers went missing. Still no lessons learnt from Sariska? So which one is next?

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Story First Published: April 29, 2010 09:49 IST

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