<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>In 2009, the Wildlife Institute of India reported that the Panna Tiger Reserve (PTR) had no tigers anymore. As forest officials planned the re-introduction of tigers in the reserve, they recruited two retired schoolteachers for a key task.The officials realised that without the local community’s support, a sustainable tiger habitat was not feasible. They found their men for the job in two well respected teachers in Panna: Ambika Khare, and Devidutta Chaturvedi.Six years of sustained efforts of these two men, working alongside forest officials finally bore fruits, and how! Now, there are 35 tigers in the reserve. Earlier this month, Khare and Chaturvedi were recognised for their efforts with Sanctuary Asia magazine’s Earth Heroes 2016 Green Teacher Award.Khare, now 84-years-old and Chaturvedi, 74, have been conducting camps to sensitise the locals about the reserve and its wild cats since 2010. On camp days, the retired teachers reach the park at 6 am to receive the participants. For the next 12 hours, they energetically hold fort; age and weather no dampener for their enthusiasm. Conducted every Sunday and on holidays between November and March, each session includes nature walks, group discussions, role play, park tours and a quiz competition.“They’ve won us valuable local support. Their energy levels and fitness put even younger men to shame,” says Rangaiah Sreenivasa Murthy, a 1987 batch Indian Forest Service officer, who was at the helm of the plan designed in 2010.Now a former field director of the PTR, Murthy says the camps are immensely popular. “They are booked well in advance, and also has people from other districts besides Panna like Chattarpur and Damoh registering.” The registration fee for adults is Rs 200 and Rs 100 for children.Khare, however, insists that the camp’s success is a team effort. “Mr Murthy’s ideas have been able to change the social life and the attitude of the people. He also helped us finetune the nature camp curriculum.”The future of Panna, though worries the octogenarian. He raised the issue of the Ken-Betwa river interlinking project. “This project will submerge a large part of the Panna reserve. Those who think that water from Ken will feed the parched Betwa are short-sighted, and do not understand how nature works. It is the forests in the Panna reserve that feed Ken. When forests are gone, a beautiful habitat for tigers and a river will be destroyed. I plead for sanity and wisdom,” he said, while speaking to DNA.A Science and English teacher, Khare realises that while men like him and his colleague may have mastered the art of teaching ordinary people, their words carry little weight in the corridors of power in Bhopal or New Delhi.

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Two retired teachers come to the tigers’ rescue