The Ranthambhore forests were the former hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur and it was only in 1955 for the first time that this area was declared as the Sawai Madhopur Wildlife Sanctuary. In 1973 it was included as a potential area under `Project Tiger' and was the smallest of the nine areas selected. It was felt that this 392 sq.kms of dry deciduous habitat could viably sustain healthy tiger populations. In 1980 it was notified as a National Park. Today Project Tiger Ranthambhore is responsible for the management of 627.13 sq.kms and included in 1992 is also the Keladevi Sanctuary under this same umbrella of management, taking the total area to 1174 sq.kms with 392 sq.kms as the core.
20 years ago in the first ever census of tigers the population in Ranthambhore was estimated at 14. In 1991 tiger numbers were estimated at 45. Today estimates reveal that there is a decline. The original 392 sq.kms is surrounded by 62 villages with an estimated population of 2,25,000 people, 1,50,000 livestock and the never ending pressures of migratory livestock. The population of both people and livestock are directly dependent on this forest area for pasture-land, timber and firewood for fuel, and any other vital minor forest produce that they require.
In nearly 20 years since the inception of Project Tiger only one scientific survey has been conducted in Ranthambhore National Park. This was done in 1987-88.
This research was undertaken by the Wildlife Institute of India and published in a paper entitled "Grazing and cutting pressures on Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan India".
Suffice enough to say that the last line of this scientific report states "Meanwhile it should be emphasized with alarm that only about one quarter of the declared core-zone area remains as effective core"
Between 1976-1979 12 villages that existed within Ranthambhore National Park were resettled outside. These people made the biggest sacrifice for Ranthambhore National Park, its tigers and bio-diversity by agreeing to resettle so that the Park could enrichen. The statistics of the above report reveal that without human settlements there are problems and further in depth analysis is necessary to determine if such sacrifices by people are worthwhile, in the interest of the bio-diversity of an area. This resettlement, like that of Kanha was one of the milestones in the history of Project Tiger Reserves.
Recently a land use and Forest Map of Ranthambhore National Park reveals the wide ranging problems due to biotic pressures that exist on the buffer and fringe areas of this forest.
This dry deciduous habitat has a rich diversity of flora and fauna, with over two hundred species of birds, a wide array of mammals and reptiles and ofcourse the tiger. During the 1980's the tigers of Ranthambhore were the most visible compared to anywhere in the world. They performed much to the pleasure of those that observed. The tiger and its behaviour patterns revealed many new dimensions to its life and in a way it was rewriting its own natural history. But by the late eighties and into the 1990's a gradual decline started in tiger sightings and the process culminated in 1992 with the seizure of a tiger and a leopard skin from a gang of poachers.
Ranthambhore has many problems. They don't just concern the tiger. They concern growing biotic pressures, the threat of poaching, the lack of serious research, problems with motivation and dedication of the staff, problems of tourism management and control, and so on. A public litigation case which encompasses all these problems is under hearing in the Supreme Court.
At the instance of the late Prime Minister Shri Rajiv Gandhi the first eco-development project was Launched in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in 1989. Today a special eco-development plan is under formation that would attempt to reduce biotic pressures through the participation of people in effective land-use. In the last year extra vigilance against poachers and a series of training programmes for the staff are being conducted. Several NGO's are extremely active outside the Park to try and develop collective strategies for the future. Such activities signal a sign of hope for the future.
According to Valmik Thapar Member Steering Committee of Project Tiger who has been associated for 17 years with this area. "Ranthambhore is one of the most remarkable dry deciduous habitats of the tiger that I have ever encountered. Today this tiger reserve has serious problems with increasing biotic pressures, poaching and a general systemic failure that afflicts this entire country. But a collective resolve and concern by people, and especially the local communities who live around the Park can resolve some of the problems so as to ensure the survival of this very fragile wilderness area into the future. Genuine problems that are faced by the field staff require quick and early solutions and when this happens an effective collective approach to the future might usher in a period of hope and optimism to ensure the health of this incredible tiger reserve"