Pench Tiger Reserve
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|Pench Tiger Reserve|
|Location||Seoni District, India|
|Area||292.85 km2 (113 sq mi)|
Pench Tiger Reserve or Pench National Park is one of the premier tiger reserves of India and the first one to straddle across two states - Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Ordinarily, the reference to Pench is mostly to the tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh(M.P).
The portion of the reserve that is in Madhya Pradesh is nestled in the southern slopes of the Satpura range of Central India. Pench Tiger Reserve comprises the Indira Priyadarshini Pench National Park, the Pench Mowgli Sanctuary and a buffer. Pench Tiger reserve recorded highest number of tigers in India. It derives its name from its life line-the River Pench. Inside the park, the river flows from North to South before going on to join the Kanhan River, while splitting the Park into two, and forming the boundary of Seoni District and Chhindwara District districts of Madhya Pradesh. The Meghdoot dam built across Pench River at Totladoh has created a large water body of 72 km2 out of which 54 km2 falls in M.P. and rest in the adjoining state of Maharashtra. The Pench River which emerges from Mahadeo Hills of Satpuda Ranges and the various nallas and streams which drain into it, all flow through the forests of Protected Area. The Satpuda ranges which bear the forests of the Protected Area act as an excellent watershed area for the Totladoh as well as lower Pench Reservoirs.
On the Madhya Pradesh side, the Pench Tiger Reserve encompasses a core area of 411.33 km2, with a buffer of 768.3 km2., making for a total protected area of 1179.63 km2. The core area includes the Mowgli Pench Wildlife Sanctuary whose area is 118.30 km2. The Buffer Zone is constituted by Reserve Forests, Protected Forests and Revenue land
Located south of the tiger reserve area in Madhya Pradesh, is the Pench Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra. On the Maharashtra side, the Pench Tiger Reserve has a core habitat area of 257.3 km2 along with a buffer/peripheral area of 483.96 km2. of the Mansinghdeo Sanctuary, making for a total protected area 741.2 km2. Spanning over a total protected region of over 1920 km2., both these tiger reserves are included in the Level 1, 13,223 km2 (5,105 sq mi) Tiger Conservation Unit – 31 (Kanha-Pench TCU). As per many experts, this area is considered as one of the most prime and critical tiger habitat remaining in central India. As of May 2017, the number of tigers in Pench Tiger Reserve has increased up to 44 as compared to 31 in 2016. From this numbered estimate, 22 are males and 22 are females. This estimate does not include the number of cubs present, which are assumed to be about 7 - 8. The estimation was conducted jointly by the Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) and Pench Tiger Foundation, spread over 21 days in January 2017.
The Reserve gets its name from the Pench River that flows, north to south, 74 km through the reserve. The Pench River bisects the original Pench core reserve into two nearly equal parts; the 147.61 km² of the Western Block which falls in the Gumtara Range of the Chhindwara Forest Division and the 145.24 km² of the Eastern Block in the Karmajhiri Range of the Seoni Forest Division. See: Map 1.
The adjoining forests to the west and north-west of the Tiger Reserve come under the East Chhindwara and South Chhindwara Territorial Forest Divisions respectively. The Forest tract to the north and northeast of the reserve comes under the South Seoni Territorial Forest Division.
Administratively, the Tiger Reserve is divided into three Forest Ranges; Karmajhiri, Gumtara, and Kurai, nine Forest Circles; Alikatta, Dudhgaon, Gumtara, Kamreet, Karmajhiri, Kurai, Murer, Rukhad, and Pulpuldoh, 42 Forest Beats, and 162 Forest Compartments. The NH 44 (old NH 7), runs between Nagpur and Jabalpur along the eastern boundary of the reserve for around 10 km.
This area was described as extremely rich and diverse in wildlife from the earliest records available on the 16th century Deogarh kingdom (Kumar 1989). The scenic beauty and the floral and faunal diversity of the Central Indian Highlands have been well documented by the British since the late 17th century, e.g. Forsyth's (1919) "Highlands of Central India" (first published in 1871). Thereafter, Sterndale (1887) and Brander (1923) have added to the knowledge on the distribution of the flora, fauna and the local inhabitants of this tract.
The fictional works of Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book, are set in the region. Kipling himself never visited the area, instead basing his descriptions on other locations in India.
During the 17th century, the Gond rulers of this region cleared large tracts of forests for cultivation and dwellings. This onslaught continued up to 1818, through the rule by the Marathas and later under the British. It was not until 1862 that efforts were made to control the indiscriminate destruction and the forests were declared reserved (elaborated in Kumar 1989).
The Pench Sanctuary was created in September 1977, with an initial area of 449.39 km². The Pench National Park, recently renamed as Indira Priyadarshini Pench National Park, was created in 1983, carved out of the Sanctuary. The Tiger Reserve, 19th in the series, was formed under the Project Tiger scheme in November 1992.
It is notable that the Bor Wildlife Sanctuary and some adjacent protected areas will be merged with Pench Tiger Reserve (Maharashtra), as a 'Satellite core area', to more than double the area of that tiger reserve.
The general topography of Pench Tiger Reserve is mostly undulating, characterised by small ridges and hills having steep slopes, with a number of seasonal streams and nullahs carving the terrain into many folds and furrows, a result of the folding and upheavals of the past. The topography becomes flatter close to the Pench River. Most of the Tiger Reserve area falls under flat to gentle slope category (0-22 °) (Sankar et al. 2000b). The mean altitude is around 550 m above M.S.L. The geology of the area is mainly gneisses and basalt (see Shukla 1990 for details).
The mean annual rainfall is around 1400 mm, with the south-west monsoon accounting for most of the rainfall in the region. For the dry season (November to May), the mean rainfall was 59.5 mm, and the temperature varies from a minimum of 0 °C in winter to 45 °C in summer (Sankar et al. 2000)
On the extreme southern boundary of the Tiger Reserve, a dam (Pench Hydroelectric Project) has been constructed on the Pench River. This dam forms the State boundary between Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Because of this dam's reservoir, a sizeable proportion (54 km²) of the Tiger Reserve on the Madhya Pradesh side becomes submerged after the monsoonal rains. As summer approaches, these areas, from where the water gradually recedes downstream, become lush green meadows attracting high numbers of wild herbivores. During summer, the Pench River dries out leaving small pools of water locally known as "doh" or "khassa", which, besides the Pench reservoir, are the most important sources of water for the animals during this period. Artificial sources of water such as earthen tanks and check-dams (anicuts) also tend to dry out before the month of March, due to the inherent low water retention capacity of the soil. The Reserve management has also set up many hand-pumps and artificial water holes throughout the Reserve to serve as minor sources of water during the pinch summer months.
Pench Tiger Reserve belongs to the Indo-Malayan phytogeographical region. Ecologically, Pench is categorized as a tropical moist deciduous (TMD) tiger habitat. Floristically, the Tiger Reserve can be classified, according to Champion and Seth (1968) as:
- Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests:
- Type 3B/C1c Slightly moist teak forests
- Tropical Dry Deciduous Forests:
- Type 5A/C1b Dry teak forests
- Type 5A/C3 Southern dry mixed deciduous forests
- Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests:
Teak is a ubiquitous species in the region, with a presence ranging from a sporadic distribution in most parts of the study area to localized teak-dominated patches. Teak (Tectona grandis), and associated species such as Madhuca indica, Diospyros melanoxylon, Terminalia tomentosa, Buchanania lanzan, Lagerstroemia parviflora, Ougeinia dalbergoides, Miliusa velutina and Lannea coromandalica, occur on flat terrain. The undulating terrain and hill slopes have patches of Mixed Forest dominated by Boswellia serrata and Anogeissus latifolia. Species like Sterculia urens and Gardenia latifolia are found scattered on rocky slopes. Bamboo forests occur in the hill slopes and along streams. Some of the open patches of the Park are covered with tall grasses interspersed with Butea monosperma and Zizyphus mauritiana. Evergreen tree species like Terminalia arjuna, Syzygium cumini and Ixora parviflora are found in riparian vegetation along nullahs and river banks. Cleistanthus collinus dominant patches are also found in some parts of the Tiger Reserve.
The tracts that previously formed pastures of villages (subsequently relocated outside the National Park limits) now constitute open grassy meadows much favoured by the gregarious herbivores. With the approach of summer, the extent of open areas of the Reserve gradually increases with the recession of reservoir's waters.
Zoogeographically, the Reserve falls in Oriental region. The carnivore fauna is represented by the tiger (Panthera tigris), indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), dhole (Cuon alpinus), jungle cat (Felis chaus), and small Indian civet (Viverricula indica). Wolves (Canis lupus) occur on the fringes and outside the Reserve limits. Striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), golden jackal (Canis aureus), and common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) make up the rest of the carnivore fauna of the Reserve.
Chital (Axis axis), sambar (Cervus unicolor), gaur (Bos gaurus), nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus), wild pig (Sus scrofa), Indian muntjac (Muntiacus muntjac) and chowsingha (Tetraceros quadricornis), are the wild ungulate species found in the study area. Chital, sambar, nilgai and wild pigs are found all over the Tiger Reserve. With the distribution of water governing their movement patterns to a great extent, gaur migrate down from the hills during the dry season and occupy the forests along the Pench River and other sources of water, and migrate back to the hill forests during the monsoon. Nilgai are found mostly in a few open areas, along forest roads, scrub jungles and fringe areas of the Reserve. Chowsingha are more localized to the greatly undulating areas of the Reserve. Barking deer are seen infrequently in moist riverine stretches. Chinkara (Gazella bennetti) are infrequently seen on the open areas bordering and outside the Buffer Zone of the Reserve (e.g. Turia, Telia, and Dudhgaon).
The common northern plains gray langur (Semnopithecus entellus) and rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) represent the primate fauna of the area. The Indian porcupine (Hystrix indica), two species of mongoose viz. common mongoose (Herpestes edwardsii) and ruddy mongoose (Herpestes smithii), and black-naped hare (Lepus nigricollis nigricollis) also occur in this Tiger Reserve.
Currently there are no human settlements within the core zone (National Park) of the Tiger Reserve, with the last two forest villages, Alikatta and Chhendia, relocated out in 1992 and 1994 to Durgapur and Khairanji respectively. Villages, inhabited by people of the Gond tribe, small farmers, and labourers, surround the Reserve. The Gond tribals, being forest dwellers, hold great respect for the forest and its fauna, many of which are worshipped. Domestic livestock such as cattle, buffaloes and goats owned by these people frequent the areas adjacent to the Tiger Reserve, many a times falling prey to the wild carnivores of the region. The Reserve can be entered from Sillari Village which is 8 km from NH 6 (Pouni Gate). Many people there work as tourist guides. As is the case with relocated villages in so many of India's tiger reserves, the agricultural fields of Alikatta are now overrun by grass and converted to meadows making them excellent habitat for tiger. Alikatta is now the common meeting point of the park where all the safari vehicles round up for breakfast during the morning drive.
Pench is one of the topmost destinations for wildlife tourism in Madhya Pradesh, albeit a little less famous and popular than the other star attractions of the Madhya Pradesh tiger circuit- Kanha and Bandhavgarh.
Much like the system of wildlife tourism in most of India, the tourism activity in Pench Tiger Reserve is restricted to 20% of the core area and is carried out through safari drives done each day in the early morning and evening. The number of jeeps that are allowed entry into the reserve is restricted by the Forest Department.
For purposes of tourism, there are two main gates on the MP side of Pench Tiger Reserve. The gate that is mostly used is the Turia gate.
Research in Pench
Long-term research in Pench was initiated by the study on the interactions between wild animal and their habitat in the Pench Sanctuary by Shukla (1990). This was followed by a tiger-prey estimation study by Karanth and Nichols (1998). Since 1995 the Wildlife Institute of India has initiated a series of studies beginning with a long-term radio telemetry study on the gaur (Bos frontalis) (Sankar et al. 2000a), followed by the creation of a spatial mapping database for the Tiger Reserve (Sankar et al. 2000b). Short-term Master's studies at the Wildlife Institute of India increased the knowledge on avifauna (Jayapal 1997), wild herbivores (Acharya 1997) tiger food habits and the diversity and distribution of the avifauna in Pench Tiger Reserve.
Pench Tiger Reserve faces the usual conservation issues that afflict all Tiger Reserves of India. The first and foremost is the pressure of poaching. While poaching is essentially a law enforcement issue, the other critical concern remains the fact that habitat loss and fragmentation threaten Tiger Reserves such as Pench. As India develops and marches relentlessly along the path of development, the needs of wildlife and nature conservation appear to be often at loggerheads with the needs of economic development. An obvious example is the case regarding the widening of the critical national highway NH7 (now known as NH44), discussed in the section below.
There are documented reports of organized poaching gangs working in and around Pench Tiger Reserve. One of the most high-profile cases first appeared in 2013 when 11 tigers were reported to have been poached in the region of Central India by professional poachers belonging to the notorious Baheliya community of Katni (that is located close to Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve). More recently, in 2016, a famous tigress in the tourism zone of Pench, named Baghinnaala female was killed by poisoning, along with her cubs (see section below). Another notorious series of incidents occurred in 2017 
NH7 (NH44) Widening Controversy and Adverse Impact on Tiger Corridor
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Famous Tigers of Pench
Collarwali (meaning one who has a collar in Hindi)- This tigress had a collar on her but as of now (2016) it is broken and can't be seen on her neck anymore. That collar has actually not been working since about 2012. Collarwali is a true legendary tigress in the annals of India's tiger reserves. Her enumerated code name is T-15 as given by the Forest Department. She was born in 2005 to another famous tigress Badi Mada (Great Mother) when she had mated with one of the most legendary male tigers of Pench - Charger or T1 (a dominant and aggressive male tiger, though not to be confused with Charger of Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve) Collarwali was part of a litter of 4 tigers (2 female and 2 male). Collarwali was the first of Barimada's four cubs to set out on her own and establish her territory in the prime area of her mother's range.
Collarwali today is the most famous tigress in Pench and is a darling of wildlife enthusiasts and photographers, since she is not at all afraid of humans and safari vehicles, and once sighted will most possibly grant very good photographic opportunities. Perhaps her fondness for the camera is because, right from her birth, she has always been in the limelight. After all, she and her siblings were raised under the continuous watch of the Trunk Cameras that were tied to forest tracking elephants during the shooting of BBC's exceedingly famous documentary Spy in the Jungle. Even today, that documentary, shot in the tourism zones of Pench Tiger Reserve, is considered path-breaking in the quality and quantity of intimate footage of wild tiger behaviour that has ever been captured on camera
But Collarwali has also earned all her own fame and adulation. She has been more than a true and worthy successor to her mother Badi Mada who herself had given birth to 19 cubs in her 12 years of motherhood. As of 2017, Collarwali has given birth to 26 cubs in 7 litters. Officials maintain that she is the only known tigress who has been recorded to have sired 26 cubs in the wild. Unfortunately, her first 3 cubs from first litter in 2008 didn't survive and died due to pneumonia during the harsh monsoon rains that year. In October 2008, after the monsoon, Collarwali recovered to produce her second litter. This time four cubs were born, three of which were male. On July 6 and 7, 2010 Collarwali mated with T-30, the very tiger from whom she had to protect her cubs from the previous litter in October 2008. Her third litter on October 23, 2010 consisted of five cubs- a very rare occurrence, with four of the cubs being females. In May 2012, Collarwali again gave birth to a fourth litter of three cubs. In 2015, the tigress gave birth to four more cubs in its sixth litter. Her 7th litter was first seen in early 2017. Due to her prolific record as a mother, she is also known in the local language as Mataram (Mother God)
Not every detail is known about the present status of all her sired cubs since 2008, though it is clear that a large portion of them (17 of the 22 cubs from the first 6 litters, while there are other records that state 14 of out 18 till 2013 ) have indeed made it to adulthood. These cubs have since dispersed to other parts of Pench and some may have even crossed over to other tiger reserves such as Kanha National Park. As an example, one documented dispersal record comes from December 2010, when the radio-collared male T-39, that was a part of her second litter in October 2008, moved over 50 km. away from his natal area into the fringes of the reserve.
It is believed that most of her litters, at least after 2012, are the offspring of the dominant tiger called Rayyakasa Male, who is also called as ‘Sula’, after the famous wine brand, due to a wine glass marking on the very bottom of his body. Older litters are mostly from the male tigers T30, and also from another male known as the Chhota Male (T2).
Incredibly, tourists visiting the park on 27th Jan 2019, discovered that Collarwali had given birth to a record eighth litter of four cubs.
Baghinnalawali female Collarwali's other siblings have been famous as well. Baghinnalawali female was Collarwali's sister from the same litter of Badi Mada. established her territory partially overlapping Barimada's on the fringes of the Karmajhiri range, and was first seen in February 2006. T-31, one of Collarwali's brothers, finally settled in the Pench Mowgli Wildlife Sanctuary and the other brother, T-17, was last sighted in the Pench Tiger Reserve in September 2009. She was called Baghinnalawali as she lived close to a nullah (watercourse). Though she was a bit shy, she was famous as well and in her time had given a lot of good sightings to tourists visiting Pench. However one of the worst tragedies happened when she, along with her two 8-month old cubs (out of four) were found apparently poisoned on 28 March 2016 inside the core area of the tiger reserve, not far from a patrolling camp. Post mortem reports apparently confirmed that the tigers had been poisoned and some suspects were arrested about a week later.
Langdi(lady with a broken limb) - This tigress is a popular one at this park. She has a vast area under her and walks almost as if had some injury on her limbs. She doesn't fear the jeeps or the tourists and is a deligt to watch. She bore 2-3 cubs few years back. 2 of them reached adulthood. As of January 2019, Langdi tigress had another litter of 4 cubs that were about one year old
Sharmili (shy)- Difficult to spot, walks away of human activities.
BMW- He is a huge hulk of a tiger and he is called BMW because of a distinctive mark on his hind left thigh which looks either like a horizontal 'B', the letter 'M' or an upside-down 'W'. First sighted in 2006, BMW's ancestry is unknown but he has fathered cubs from many Pench tigresses. Most guess that BMW comes from the southern part of the Pench landscape, probably from the Maharashtra side of Pench. There have been run-ins with the other dominant male tiger, Sula or Rayyakasa Male, though each of them have managed to hold on to their turf. BMW has established his own lineage thanks to his courting days with Badi Mada and then Baghinallah tigress.
Patdev female- Difficult to spot, walks away of human activities.
Rayyakasa Male A male in his prime and arch rival of the BMW, he has succeeded in establishing dominance in the Karmajhari range. Initially shy and reserved, he gradually got used to the tourist traffic and was seen more frequently in the last year. He was named ‘Sula’ after the famous wine brand, due to a wine glass marking on the very bottom of his body. He has been a constant mate of Collarwali, fathering at least three of her litters
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