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Page last updated at 20:42 GMT, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 21:42 UK

Indian tiger park 'has no tigers'

By Faisal Mohammad Ali
BBC News, Bhopal

Royal Bengal Tiger
Most of the tigers at Panna National Park were killed by poachers

One of India's main tiger parks - Panna National Park - has admitted it no longer has any tigers.

The park, in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, was part of the country's efforts to save the famous Royal Bengal Tiger from extinction.

State Minister of Forests Rajendra Shukla said that the reserve, which three years ago had 24 tigers, no longer had any.

A special census was conducted in the park by a premier wildlife institute, after the forest authorities reported no sightings of the animals for a long time.

This is the second tiger reserve in India, after Sariska in Rajasthan, where numbers have dwindled to zero.

Warning bells

Officials from the wildlife department say there is no "explicable" reason for the falling number of tigers.

But a report prepared by the central forest ministry says Panna cannot be compared with Sariska because "warning bells were sounded regularly for the last eight years".

Map

The report says wildlife authorities failed to see the impending disaster despite repeated warnings, and lost most of Panna's big cats to poaching.

While this controversy rages, there have been reports that another national park in Madhya Pradesh, Sanjay National Park, which was included in the tiger project three years ago, also has no tigers left.

The park had a population of 15 tigers until the late 1990s.

Of the more than 1,400 tigers in the country, 300 dwell in the state of Madhya Pradesh, which is also called the "tiger state of India".

Best managed

But Madhya Pradesh's forest minister Rajendra Shukla says all the news is not bleak.

"Panna is our only park which has lost on this count," he says. "Three of state's reserve forests - Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench - have been adjudged among the best managed tiger reserves in the country."

Mr Shukla has drawn up a seven-member committee comprising the state's chief conservator of forests and experts, to ascertain why the tigers have disappeared.

Indian officials carry out a tiger census in Mahanada Wildlife Sanctuary in December 2008
Indian officials regularly carry out tiger censuses in the national parks

The chief conservator, HS Pabla, told the BBC that the report would be submitted some time in August.

He said that tigers from Sanjay National Park "could have strayed to the adjoining area, which is now part of the state of Chattisgarh, created some years ago."

The authorities have recently transported two female tigers to Panna from another nearby tiger park, and sought permission from the central administration to bring in four more, two of them males.

Project tiger

India had 40,000 tigers a century ago, but the numbers dwindled fast because of hunting and poaching.

The country banned tiger hunting and launched an ambitious conservation effort named Project Tiger to increase the population of the endangered species.

A number of forest areas were declared national parks and funds allotted for protecting the tigers.

Though the programme bore fruit initially, with the decline in numbers checked because of a hunting ban, recent years have seen a phenomenal rise in poaching, which is now organised almost along the lines of drug-smuggling.

The authorities have not been able to put a stop to it, owing to the ever-changing techniques used by the cartels, and corruption within.

MK Ranjitsingh, a member of National Wildlife Advisory Board, says the authorities must crack down on the poachers by preventing their activities in the parks, and stopping the export of tiger products.

And they must, he adds, lobby for international pressure on the nations of the Far East, which are the main buyers of such goods.

There have been reports that there is a huge demand for tiger bones, claws and skin in countries like China, Taiwan and Korea.



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