Our Tigers Return
Writer-conservationist Prerna Singh Bindra reviews a delightful new children’s book that details the return of Panna’s tigers.
Publisher: Last Wilderness Foundation
Language: English, Hindi
Author: Peeyush Sekhsaria
On a recent visit to Panna, I partook in a function with a group of kids from the town and nearby villages, all within the vicinity of the Panna Tiger Reserve. The programme was flagged off with a rally, with the children marching to lusty cries of ‘Panna tigers amar rahe’ (Long live Panna Tigers!). Very heartening, and certainly the need of the hour for the beleaguered tiger to have the support of its human neighbours with whom it is usually locked in conflict. But the cynic in me wondered if it was the excitement of the moment, a programme centred around tigers with the frills of banners, loudspeakers, sweets—and all the hullaballoo that a morcha in India generates.
Not so. Most of the children I spoke to were not espousing empty slogans; in fact, could actually teach politicians a thing or two. One told me the, “tigers saved the forest, which saved the river”, another intoned that the forests were the “lungs of the earth making fresh air”, while yet another confided she simply loved the animals. Most knew the link between tigers, forests, water; but what shone the most- and made my heart sing- was their collective pride in Panna, and its tigers—“who had made their town famous all over the world.”
Indeed it has, and Panna’s place in the tiger map is all the more special since this pride has been resurrected from the debacle of extinction. Herein hangs a tale… of Panna’s shame of losing all its tigers, how they were brought back and the population rebuilt. The story is narrated in a recently released book Our Tigers Return in a slim magazine format for children. The crux of the book—Panna’s revival—is explained in the title. After a brief overview of Panna Tiger Reserve, and the shameful extinction of tigers here in 2009, the book centres on the tremendous task of reintroducing tigers to Panna. In an unprecedented exercise, tigers were translocated from reserves in Madhya Pradesh. The next task was to keep the tigers safe, and the Panna team worked tirelessly to protect and monitor the tigers. They were rewarded when tigers bred, raising cubs, and the next generation of Panna’s ‘new’ tigers. There are 32 tigers in Panna now. There is no such parallel in the world, of tigers being reintroduced-and successfully establishing and breeding.
The book invokes the old-fashioned art of story-telling through a sutradhar, in this case “Murthy Uncle’ or Rangaiah Sreenivasaa Murthy, who was the park director, and the architect of Panna’s revival. He narrates the story to an inquisitive school going girl, Megha, who besieges Murthy Uncle with her many questions:”What does perennial mean?” (in context of the river Ken) to “Do radio-tigers bother tigers?” and “how do tigers communicate?” Within the story of Panna’s tigers are embedded other jungle tales. How hyaenas are scavengers , the leopard and its spots, why bears climb trees, and more. It explains how eco-systems work and how ‘just’ a school girl can help tigers.
Megha’s character is well-sketched, and she comes across as an irrepressible, bright little girl—thanks both to the author, Peeyush Sekhsaria, and illustrator Deepthi Radhakrishnan (who has drawn Megha) and the designer Aniruddha Gosh (who has also done a fantastic job of illustrating the book). I absolutely love Arjun Srivathsa’s caricature explaining the homing instincts of animals, and the arch humour they bring to the story. The book also gives information—perhaps in too much detail—of individual tigers of Panna. Though, it does makes easier the task of identifying with tigers, and the thrilling tale of T3 venturing back to his original home in Pench is a must read.
What the book misses is the elephant in the room—the looming, imminent threat of the Ken-Betwa river link proposal, the first in India’s ambitious, if ill-thought and ill-planned, river-linking project that threatens to submerge a large chunk of Panna and its tigers. Perhaps it is because the topic is too hot politically, more so for a book intended for children? Though I do believe that there can be no pussyfooting around with kids, and if nothing else, a deeper look at the threats Panna faced and faces, even if in a broad based way, was called for.
That said, Our Tigers Return is a bright, engaging read. It can be wrapped up in under an hour, but it is one of those that stays with you far longer, planting new seeds of thought. The biggest take home from the book is what the Panna kids conveyed at the rally, and without which there is little hope for the tigers- a sense of pride in our tigers, and those who save them.
The book has currently been distributed to schools and nature education centre around Panna, but will shortly be available for sale at the reserve. It is available in both English and Hindi. The Hindi translation is by Shashi K Jha and Parikshit Suryavanshi.
Author, award-winning journalist and passionate conservationist, Prerna Singh Bindra has been a member of the National Board for Wildlife and its core Standing Committee, as well as the State Board for Wildlife, Uttarakhand. She is founder-trustee of BAGH Foundation, and edits TigerLink.