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Panna landscape Needs 2 More National Parks, Not Satellite Tiger Collaring

Ahead of the controversial Ken-Betwa Link Project (KBLP) amidst concerns over enormous environmental loss in Panna tiger reserve (PTR), two major studies have been launched quietly in the PTR -a major project for GPS Satellite collaring of 14 tigers in Panna and radio tagging of threatened vultures.  Wildlife Institute of India (WII)  is involved in both of these, one of a kind projects. All 14 tigers will be collared to study their dispersal behavior and 25 vultures will also be radio -tagged to understand movement, habits and their range of scavenging. The WII is funding both the projects which are part of the Panna Landscape planning for the KBLP. However, experts have raised eyebrows,“The project was not at all required. Tiger habits and their dispersal pattern in Panna is very well known and recorded”, they said.   “ It’s an Exercise in Futility” Eight big cats roaming in the buffer zone of the tiger reserve and 6 from Panna landscape including  the forest divisions surroundin

The Legacy of White Tigers - Mohan, Virat to Mukundpur Safari

Scion of Rewa royals, Pushpraj Singh fondly remembers the legacy of white tigers. He had seen the legendary Mohan - the white tiger captured by his father Martand Singh Judeo from Mukundpur forest region. He also remembers vividly, Virat- Mohan’s progeny. Mohan is considered a progenitor of all known white tigers in the world. Like his father, Pushparaj is passionate about wildlife conservation.

The Legacy of White Tigers- Mohan, Virat to Mukundpur Safari

During my childhood, way back in the mid 60s, I used to return back from Bombay (Now Mumbai), for summer vacations to Rewa, my native place and major lures awaiting me would be mangoes and the  white tiger at Govindgarh fort  as well as the visit to the Bandhavgarh tiger reserve.

I had never imagined that one summer holiday would mark the end of one of the major attractions, the white tiger era when in 1972-73 my father, Maharaja Martand Singh Judeo decided to close the curtains on keeping this beautiful animal.   Known for his wildlife conservation works, he was instrumental in the creation of Bandhavgarh as a national park in 1968.

Mohan: the First White Tiger

We all knew that after the death of Mohan, the illustrious first captive white tiger, my father was disheartened and dejected.  But we didn't even dream that he would take such a harsh decision of doing away with them, after the death of Virat, the last litter of Mohan.

I distinctly  remember that day early morning I received a message to get ready, in the official dress and be down ( in the palace) at 10am sharp. When I reached downstairs, my father, an epitome of punctuality, had already reached. I saw the trophy of Virat in the drawing room. All the staff of my father wore a solemn look. I also saw a few garlands kept aside in the sprawling drawing room. “Young and enthusiastic, I tried to ask a few questions from the staff around but they looked back – almost blank -making me more curious.

In a few minutes, siren -hooting blue Ambassador cars arrived, all looked from the Indian Navy .Some senior officials stepped out , wishing my dad, exchanging pleasantries.  After a few formalities they called for a big truck and loaded the trophy ( of Virat) . They presented a silver miniature tiger trophy to him  and  left .  I thought maybe a new fleet was to be named after the white tiger or Virat . But one thing was sure , it marked the end to this world's most profound unique legacy, maybe forever.

Memories of Virat : The Last Litter of Mohan

My memories on Virat are a bit more vivid, as by the time ,I grew up and became wiser. He was perhaps born in 1971 from Mohan and Sukeshi, a brownish striped female white tiger.  My father named him Virat, as he had a prominent head and would gaze firmly at us- who were the regular visitors.

Virat later mated with Chameli, a graceful tigress who was a "natkhat"(mischievous) as my father would often say smilingly . I remember my father had a great sense of humour , even  while naming the tigers.  A hideous and ferocious tiger was named ‘Jhagdu’, (  derived from Hindi word Jhadga  meaning the one who fights).  But after the death of Virat, His Highness decided to draw the curtains down on the Govindgarh Tiger Carnival.  He sent the skin of Virat to Bangalore now Bengaluru, to be stuffed, little knowing that the trophy will be given away little later( presented to the Navy).

A decade later, when I started my journey into wildlife conservation, my prime agenda was to get back the white tigers to Rewa. To my fortune, that was the year when then prime minister Mrs Indira Gandhi made a separate department of environment, having my uncle and a wildlife expert, Mr Digvijay Sinh, of Gujarat as a deputy minister under her.

I jumped at this opportunity and approached him stating that an environmental conference at Rewa be held and that he would be the chief guest along with then chief minister Mr Arjun Singh who would preside over the function. After much discussions and debates the conference took place in 1982 where I demanded the return of the white tigers but again as fate would have it, my proposal saw the dark room, till, again, when I got another opportunity in the form of a conference, named as Rewa Rediscovered in 2003. I raised the issue and got it announced by then chief minister Digvijaya Singh. My misfortune didn't end, as his second tenure ended soon  and fresh elections were held .With that my term as an MLA ended.

White Tiger Returns to Rewa

But I kept on running after my dream project pursuing it hard to ensure that it materializes. We launched a massive campaign of collecting 1,00,000 signatures signed  by the people of Rewa including a large number of students  to bring back the white tiger, an  emotional issue for Vindhya Pradesh. The memorandum signed by   the people was forwarded to then President of India, the great Dr APJ  Abdul Kalam.

One fine morning after a few years, I read in the papers that the white tigers would be brought back to Rewa.  My Joy knew no boundaries and I was excited even though the project had been taken away from me and was being executed by the present ruling people. But that did not deter me.  I was happy that  at last  my dream project of bringing back the white tiger to Rewa has been achieved.

I was touched by the gesture of then minister and now an MLA Mr Rajedra  Shukla, as he kept me in the limelight during the time of the inauguration and even later.

However, today more than 250 acres of the safari park has ultimately emerged as a major attraction for the wildlife lovers . Besides white tigers, there are lions , leopards, sloth bears and a  variety of antelopes. However,  Maharaja Martand Singh Judeo White Tiger Safari and Zoo , Mukundpur , as it is named ,still awaits its real due, a proper marketing plan to increase footfall.

All the White Tigers which have been brought here have some lineage of Mohan, the great grandfather. But a lot of work is required to be done to improve the habitat of the Safari to protect  the animals from floods or fire.

I fail to understand why an animal as perfect as the Tiger, be in a forest or cage, has to continuously face the challenges brought up by man and his greed? Be it the shrinking forest covers, corridors, or declining prey base, poaching attacking his kingdom allotted by nature.

But I have not lost hope as amongst us there still are people who care about the Tiger. May the head of the pyramid of the ecological chain be protected.


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