As India’s landmark conservation project, Project Tiger has seen its ups and downs. While some national parks have seen tiger numbers slowly climb, Sariska National Park in Rajasthan was declared completely tiger-free in 2005 after a wave of poaching, before a handful of tigers were introduced from other reserves. But the conservation project can claim genuine success in Rathambore National Park, the most famous tiger sanctuary in Rajasthan and perhaps in all of India.
In the most recent census, park officials recorded 67 tigers, the highest count since the park was founded in 1955 on the former hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur. Even more impressively, 26 of the tigers are cubs, indicating a thriving breeding population and making the park the “tiger nursery” of India. There are now plans to relocate more tigers from Ranthambhore to restore Sariska’s depleted tiger population. Since 2005, the number of tigers at Sariska has climbed to 13, with four cubs counted in the latest tiger census.
Ranthambhore’s success may be partly down to its popularity with tourists. During the tourist season, hundreds of visitors enter the park on safaris every day, and park guards have eyes on most areas of the park. The most risky time of the year for wildlife in Rathambhore is during the monsoon, when the park closes to tourists and cattle herders invade the park fringes seeking fodder and firewood.
Nevertheless, India’s tiger population faces severe challenges, most notably from a depleted gene pool, with inbreeding being a major health risk for the small, isolated populations of tigers still surviving in the wild. Park authorities are now waiting on the results of the 2018 tiger census for an indication of whether their efforts have halted, or even slowed, the general decline in tiger numbers.