He brought up tigers in a reserve forest infested with poachers and tiger-haters
In 2009, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests received a jolt when it came to know that the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh too had no tigers left in it. Just four years earlier, the Sariska Tiger Reserve was in a similar situation and it had caused a massive public furore.
Poachers seemed to be having a field day. The animal was being hunted down for its body parts, which fetched a high price in China.
Murthy, the man who breathed life into Panna
Stung by the public outrage, the MP government woke up from its slumber and shunted out all top forest officials from Panna. After wide consultations, it decided to identify officials who would be able to revive Panna’s lost glory.
The result: RS Murthy, an official who would so gloriously live up to expectations of the government, was appointed the Field Director in Panna. A decision was also taken to relocate a few tigers to Panna from the nearby reserves.
Shortly, two tigresses from Bandavgarh and Kanha Tiger Reserve were brought to the park after a male tiger was seen roaming in the periphery of the reserve. The male tiger though disappeared soon and it was believed he too had fallen victim to the poaching mafia active in and around the reserve.
A male tiger from Pench Tiger Reserve was brought in next, followed by two more tigresses from Kanha. The total count went up from zero to five.
What followed later was no less than a miracle, as the count further went up to 17 in less than two years.
While Sariska is struggling to make such a turnaround, Panna’s story has become a global benchmark for animal relocation.
However, while discussing the Panna success story, not many are talking about the man who made it all possible. The one who chased a male tiger for hundreds of kilometres, and brought it back to safety; the one who spent sleepless nights to ensure the tigers were safe.
Meet Murthy, the man who breathed life into Panna.
Talk about him to forest officials and they shower great praises on the man who has dedicated his life to conservation.
While some call him ‘mad’, others call him a strict taskmaster, but all agree that if it wasn’t for Murthy the task of resurrecting Panna would have been a much difficult proposition.
“It is under his guidance that the park has shown such miraculous recovery. People call him mad because he only sees things from the prism of conservation. One should look at all the creative things that he has done in the park,” says SP Yadav, DIG, National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
Murthy toiled hard for Panna’s revival. Soon after the male tiger was translocated from Pench Tiger Reserve, he developed homing instincts and began to walk to his original habitat. In just few days, he had walked for almost 450 km towards Pench creating panic amongst Murthy and his staff.
Fitted with a radio collar, the tiger was chased by Murthy for 50 days and finally tranquilised to be brought back to the reserve.
To confine him within the park, Murthy brought in urine of tigresses from the Bhopal zoo to keep the tiger interested. The urine was sprayed at various places to help the tiger locate the two tigresses in the reserve.
“Soon, the tiger stumbled upon these tigresses and began mating. It resulted in the birth of the first litter and since then there has been no looking back,” says Murthy.
The roar of the wild cat is back to haunt the pristine forests of Panna, thanks to the passion and commitment shown by Murthy to fulfil the mandate given him. But for Murthy the job is far from over.
The first litter in Panna after relocation of tigers (Photo: Dr. Ramesh)
“Till the time I don’t ensure the safety of these predators in the park as well as outside of it, my job is half done,” he asserts.
Earlier, the MP government was reluctant to notify the buffer area in Panna, but after the Supreme Court’s ruling the buffer has come into existence. This would mean a greater area for the tiger to bring the good old days when the predator ruled this hinterland.
“The mining mafia has considerable stakes in the area and even the villagers don’t like the tigers very much, but we have to adopt new initiatives for the better future of the tigers,” adds Murthy.
To change the situation, Murthy has launched several initiatives. He has started Panna Nature Camps wherein locals are informed about different facets of Panna and how it is a crucial cog in the wheel of overall development of the area.
He has also ensured that the park is patrolled 24X7. “Before Murthy came in, some of the forest officials colluded with poachers and even took bribes to hide crucial information about the presence of poachers in the park. The report that Murthy had submitted on Panna debacle has put some of Murthy’s predecessors in the dock,” says a forest guard posted in Panna.
Recently, the reserve has been awarded National Award by NTCA for active management while several other awards have been conferred on Murthy and his team for their brilliant efforts.
“For me tiger is god and if anyone tries to kill my god then he will have to face the music and that has been my message to all since I took over. There are all kinds of people around me and I have to very careful in ensuring that none of these are rogue elements. If there are some, then my job is to weed them out and make them accountable for their crimes,” says Murthy.
And he has got many admirers and supporters within the department. “If he is mad, then we want such mad people across all reserves in India and then we wouldn’t have to worry about poachers. We need hundred other Murthys to let the tigers roam freely in a place that is their home,” says Yadav.