Panna, a Madhya Pradesh district world famous for its diamond mines, has scripted a remarkable turnaround in tiger population, taking the number of big cats in its reserve to over 50 from zero a decade ago.
Once completely devoid of big cats, the Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR), around 330 km from Bhopal, started the Tiger Reintroduction Project a decade ago to get back felines in its wild.
Now, 52 wild cats roar in the PTR, one of the six tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh, which recently regained the status of the country's "tiger state".
"The PTRs Tiger Reintroduction Project started in 2009 with 7 tigers - five females and two males - brought from Kanha and Bandhavgarh national parks. They were released here and now the net result is
that 52 tigers, including cubs, roar in this reserve," PTRs field director KS Bhadoriya told PTI.
Mr Bhadoriya claimed this conservation effort in PTR was unique and in his knowledge "no such attempt across the world has brought this kind of results".
He said the Panna Tiger Reserve, spread over 1,596 sq kms, including the buffer zone, had become devoid of the endangered big cats a decade back.
"Officials cited different reasons for the extinction but we cannot pin point any of them for this crisis," he said.
Mr Bhadoriya said now the density of tiger population at the Panna reserve is very healthy and has reached its almost optimum level.
"Now, we need to focus on management of adjoining forests and developing corridors to areas like the Nauradehi sanctuary in Sagar district and the Rani Durgavati sanctuary in Damoh district because tigers may venture out of the reserve to seek new habitats, he said.
"Tigers are making their territories across the park area. Cubs are growing up in natural environment," he said. The field director said in order to make people aware of the significance of tigers existence and forest conservation, nature camps were organised in Panna.
"The PTRs motto is 'Jan Samarthan se Bagh Sanrakshan' (tiger conservation with peoples support) and it brought about the desired results," he added.
As many as 59 villages are located in the buffer zone of the reserve, the official said.
Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Kamal Nath has expressed happiness over the rising number of big cats in Panna and other tiger reserves of the state.
"Madhya Pradesh is a paradise for tigers. In terms of density of tiger population, the state tops in the world. This achievement can be attributed to the untiring efforts of park management and field staff," Mr Nath said.
The Panna National Park, created in 1981, was declared a Project Tiger Reserve by the central government in 1994.
Madhya Pradesh had lost the coveted status of the "tiger state" to Karnataka in 2010.
The All India Tiger Estimation Report 2018, released by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 29, had revealed that Madhya Pradesh was now home to 526 big cats, the highest in any state in the country.
In 2014, the state had a total of 308 tigers, a number which jumped by 218 in the 2018 census.
In 2006, the total number of tigers in the country was 1,411, of which Madhya Pradesh accounted for 300. However in 2010, while the number of tigers increased in the country to 1,706, their count declined to 257 in Madhya Pradesh.
According to the 2018 census, Karnataka was a close second with 524 tigers.
After Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, the other states in top five in terms of tiger count are Uttarakhand (442), Maharashtra (312) and Tamil Nadu (264).