I was (mistakenly I happily admit) dubious about traveling to India, but when I learned that there was a trip that not only went to the major sites but also included a tiger safari – I decided to go,
This decision turned out to be highly ironic. The tiger photos you will see in this post are not mine – they were taken by Wes, a fellow traveler who has graciously given me permission to use them. I personally did not see one tiger (the rest of the trip as you have been reading, has been revelatory and glorious). This is as close as I got:
Nevertheless India holds the largest population in the world of wild tigers, representing approximately 70%. The bad news is that the species is dangerously endangered, through years of hunting, poaching and human encroachment, The good news is that the 2018 National TIger Conservation Authority (NTCA) Tiger Census is expected to be more than 3000 – a critical rise from the 2226 tigers in 2014, 1706 in 2010 and 1411 tigers in 2006. More on that later in this post.
Bengal tigers are big – they can reach up to 13 feet in length and weigh up to 660 pounds. They are not the largest wild cat, however; that title belongs to their cousin, the Siberian Tiger. They are solitary animals, and unlike lions or cheetahs, do not hunt in packs. In addition, they are very territorial, so for a population to flourish it requires large swathes of land. Being solitary also emphasizes the difficulties in population growth, hunting for a mate can also be quite elusive and inbreeding can also prove problematic to a healthy population.
India adds another layer of difficulty – with one of the largest and densest human populations in the world, tiger-human conflict is inevitable. There are countless incidences of tiger attacks and human reprisals.
In an effort to protect both humans and animals, in 1973 Indira Gandhi initiated a conservation program called Project TIger which has formed more than 23 heavily monitored tiger reserves in reclaimed land in which human development is banned.
There are now 50 tiger reserves in India:
The reserve I visited was the Panna Tiger reserve and while I did not spy any tigers, I did get many photos of other beasties which you can see in a previous post. My fellow traveler Wes went on to Ranthambore and he hit the jackpot. The tigers all but came up to the Jeep to say hello:
And this incredible video:
Despite the existence of wildlife sanctuaries, the tigers are still not in a human-free environment. There are more than four million tribal Indians living in protected forest areas. A 2006 law had given the “squatters rights” to tribespeople and other dwellers living on forest land for three generations and before December 2005 the legal right to live and work on the land.
However India’s Supreme Court has just ordered that more than a million such families living on forest land may have to leave soon, although the eviction is still being fought in the courts. The conflict of animal versus human rights continues.
The viable future of the Bengal Tiger population lies with the protection of these: