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, 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.

Dhundwa Seha gorge panna national park
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The Dhundwa Seha is a beautiful gorge with a viewpoint and a watchtower for observing vultures. Here, one can enjoy the scenic beauty of the expanse of the landscape while the vultures soar overhead. If you are lucky, you might even spot a tiger or bear down in the gorge from the watchtower.
Bengal Tiger near Chota Dhundwa in Panna Forest
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At the opposite end of Dhundwa Seha is Chota Dhundwa, a cliff above the gorge. The cats take a rocky route down to the valley. Tigress, P141, can be seen walking across Chota Dhundwa, behind which lies the mesmerising landscape of Panna.

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.

Kusum trees in Panna National Park
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A flush of new leaves paints the blue skies of Panna a bright red. The Ceylon Oak tree (Schleichera oleosa), commonly known as Kusum, adds panache to the dry deciduous forests of the reserve.
Dense forest and watering holes in Panna Tiger Reserve
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Panna National Park has numerous perennial water bodies like the Judy Nallah that quench the thirst of animals and offers them shelter from the scorching heat during summer. The first rays of the sun emerge from the dense canopy, visible to the naked eye, owing to the Tyndall effect.
Gundalha Nallah watering hole in Panna Forest
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In the Hinauta Plateau, the monsoon rains are the only source of water. The plateau has many waterholes where the rain water accumulates. The reserve administration has even made concrete dams to prevent water run-off. One such place is Gundalha Nallah, named after the abundant Gundli grass (Little Millets). The herbivores frequent this water body to eat the Gundli grass, which is of ethnoveterinary significance.

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.

Young Bengal Tiger in Panna Forest
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The 1990s saw a steep decline in the number of tigers in Panna, ultimately culminating in the vanishing of the big feline from its forests. Tedious efforts, careful monitoring and conditioning of the locals to sustain a viable population of tigers have resulted in a healthy population of tigers in the park. The picture shows a young tiger, one of 70, that today calls Panna home.
Tiger spotted in Panna national park
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The rocky banks of River Ken form numerous large and small islands which serve as a haven for many species. Panna is very rich in terms of petrological and mineralogical value, and that fact is often exposed to the naked eye. One might be left astounded by the different colours and patterns seen on the rocks while touring the park. In the picture, amid magenta-coloured rocks is a sub-adult tigress of the dominant female of the area, P151, left to fend for herself in the safe confines of her mother's territory.
tiger cubs in Pipartola grassland in Panna Tiger Reserve
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The Pipartola grasslands on the foothills of the Hinauta Plateau are a mosaic of vegetation of large scrublands with an abundance of Khair and patches of tall, green elephant grass. It is the nallah of the Pipartola grasslands that cradles the future of Panna. Just two years of age and still dependent on their mother, P141, these two sub-adult males are often spotted sharing a meal or playing with each other in the Pipartola grasslands. After the summer of 2022, they will no longer be together and will instead establish their separate territories and continue the tiger gene pool of Panna.
Bengal tiger cubs near Ken River in Panna forest
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River Ken is the lifeline of Panna National Park. It is home to plenty of aquatic flora and fauna, including freshwater crocodiles and the Gharial. The presence of crocodiles does not deter tigers from claiming lands beyond the river as tigers are able swimmers. The tigress P151 often leaves her sub-adult cubs near the bank when she embarks on her journey to mark her territory on both sides of the river. The cubs play along the river bank, carefully avoiding getting too close to the crocodiles that occasionally come out to bask in the sun.
Big male tiger P243 spotted in Panna National Park
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A tigress in the non-tourism area had died due to natural reasons and left behind three cubs aged just a few months old. Camera traps were set up to monitor the orphaned cubs, and to the utter surprise of the forest officials, it became known that the father of the cubs, P243, had left behind a kill for the cubs. P243 was subsequently collared and monitored. It was unheard of for a male tiger to nurture its cubs, which P243 successfully did by raising the cubs to adulthood.
Bengal Tiger in the grassland in Panna Tiger Reserve
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Tigers are marvels of evolution. Their immense muscle power, lightning-fast reflexes and the innate ability to prowl close to the prey make the tiger an apex predator. The swathes of tall, yellow and dry grass of the grasslands in Panna provide perfect cover for the tiger and facilitate it to get as close as possible to unsuspecting prey.
Tiger hunting deer in Central India Panna Forest
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A tigress was resting in the grass when an unsuspecting Sambar Deer and its fawn, oblivious of the tiger’s presence, approached the cat. The tiger crouched, ready to pounce, camouflaged perfectly in the dense yellow dried grass. Patiently waiting for the deer and fawn to come close, the cat leapt and sprinted towards the fawn, having chosen its target.
Budhrond grassland in Panna National Park
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Budhrond was a (relocated) village at the heart of Panna National Park, of which only rubble remains now. Grasslands have taken over, and during winter, a white sheet of fog accumulates on top of the grass here.
Spotted Deer Chital in a grassland in Panna Forest
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Running parallel to the Ken river, the rising sun melts like hot gold onto the tall grass of Panna's Bhoura Dau grasslands. This magical phenomenon occurs at sunrise due to the sun being partially blocked by the large Hinauta Plateau to the north. The antlers of the Sambar Deer can be seen shining in the golden light.
Chinkara or Indian Gazelle in Hinauta Plateau in Panna National Park
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The Hinauta Plateau is an elevated land with large mixed forest patches and varied grasslands. The scarce water resources of the plateau force the herbivores to travel up and downhill for water, except for Chinkaras that can sustain without water for days. While the plains and river banks are dominated by deer, Chinkaras or Indian Gazelles are seen in large numbers atop the Hinauta Plateau.
Endangered bird Himalayan Griffons vulture at Vulture Point in Panna
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Dhundwa Seha is an enormous gorge where tourists can get down on foot and explore. Its crevices and crags are prominent nesting sites for vultures, giving it the name 'Vulture Point'. The Himalayan Griffons seen in the picture are one of the seven species of vultures found in Panna.
Fastest bird Shaheen Falcon in Panna National Park
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Panna is blessed with the many wonders of nature, home to a wide array of bird species, both resident and migrant. A Shaheen Falcon is seen just about to take flight.
Sarus Crane tallest flying bird in Panna
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Sarus Cranes are some of the largest flying birds. Venerated in the region, they can be often seen dwelling in the fields or on the banks of the Ken river.