A photographic journey that brings to life the vivid palette of Panna, the Central Indian landscape that was reclaimed by tigers
Tanya Tiwari Thakkar | Varun Thakkar
A classic Panna shot—where a tiger rests like a king on a cliff above the Ken river as dawn breaks.
Panna National Park is a pristine wildlife habitat nestled amidst the Vindhya Hills in the northern part of Madhya Pradesh. The national park was established in 1981 and declared a tiger reserve in 1994. Spread across 1646sq.km., in the districts of Panna and Chhatarpur, the park stands as an epitome of the successful reintroduction of tigers after local extinction owing to rampant poaching and illegal mining.
Formerly a royal hunting ground for the princely states of Panna, Chhatarpur and Bijawar, by the late 1990s, Panna had all but wiped out its entire tiger population. The reintroduction efforts started in 2009, when T1 and T2, two female tigers from Bandhavgarh and Kanha tiger reserves respectively, were successfully relocated inside Panna. After that, T3, a male tiger, was relocated from Pench Tiger Reserve. The tigers were radio-collared, monitored and tracked at all hours. More than a decade later, the reintroduction has proven successful, with Panna National Park boasting a healthy population of 70 tigers.
The park is in a unique geographical location, wherein below it lies the forest belt stretching towards Cape Comorin and above it, the Great Gangetic Plains. River Ken (ancient name Karnavati) is a perennial river that meanders through the tiger reserve and is the lifeline of the region. It is one of the cleanest rivers in India and is home to the Gharial, Mugger Crocodile and other aquatic fauna. The park's topography is astonishing and can be broadly divided into the Talgaon Plateau, Hinauta Plateau and Ken Valley. Paintings made by cavemen can still be witnessed on the rocks inside the reserve.
The reserve has a heterogeneous mosaic landscape of dry deciduous forest and dry and short grasslands. The dominant species of flora are Teak (Tectona grandis), Kusum (Schleichera oleosa) and Kardhai (Anogeissus pendula). Khair (Acacia catechu) is found in abundance on the slopes and at the foot of the plateau, giving it an orangish-reddish hue.
The reserve serves as a link between the faunal populations on either side of the Vindhya ranges. Apart from the Royal Bengal Tiger, the reserve has a healthy population of Indian Leopard, Sambar, Spotted Deer, Rusty-spotted Cat, Fishing Cat, Sloth Bear, Striped Hyena, Nilgai, Chinkara, Chousingha, and the Desert Cat being the latest discovery. The reserve also boasts a wide range of avian fauna, which includes a large population of vultures. The resident species include the Long-billed, White-backed, Egyptian and Red-headed Vultures. The Eurasian Griffon, Himalayan Griffon and Cinereous Vulture are the migratory vulture species found in the region.
Some of the other birds found in the Panna National Park include the Chestnut-bellied and Painted Sandgrouse; Yellow-footed and Orange-breasted Green-Pigeon; Common Pochard, Ferruginous Duck, Grey and Painted Francolin; Rock Bush-Quail, Little and Great Crested Grebe; Grey, Large-tailed, Indian and Savanna Nightjar; Black-necked and Sarus Crane; Peregrine Falcon, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Curlew, Common Sandpiper, several species of owls and many more. The diverse avian fauna makes Panna a paradise for birdwatchers.
From sighting a tiger amid the Saccharum grass on the rocky banks of River Ken to watching flocks of vultures bask in its gorges, Panna is a unique amalgamation of different habitats that shelters a diverse set of flora and fauna—an absolute paradise for wildlife enthusiasts.
Friday, 01 April, 2022
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Tanya Tiwari Thakkar is an advocate by profession and works at the Madhya Pradesh High Court in Jabalpur. Tanya loves to escape to the jungle now and then and she shares her experiences from her wild sojourns through her words and images. She posts as @aynat_t on Instagram.
Varun Thakkar is a businessman from Nagpur. His hometown’s serendipitous proximity to tiger reserves, sanctuaries and forests resulted in him making the transition from a tourist to an award-winning photographer. He has won four awards in the Nature inFocus, Photography Contest, two in 2015, and one each in 2017 and 2020. He believes that wildlife photography is not only about making a good image or owning great equipment; a deep understanding of the subject’s behaviour is equally important. He posts as @varunthakkar156 on Instagram.