Before 1900s most of India had thick forest cover, a lot of prey for carnivores and as a result a large part of India was prime tiger habitat. Some “experts” have estimated that there were over 40,000 tigers in India at the “turn of the century. This may be a bit of an exaggeration but it can be safely said that there was no “tiger crisis” in India at that time.
By 1950s the population of India had gone up tremendously and vast tracts of forests were cleared to make way for agricultural fields. At that time the focus of the policy makers in India was on “development” and the environment was totally ignored. Tigers lost out to economic progress. Towards the end of 1960s a national level tiger census was carried out by the WWF and the Government of India and this census revealed that there were less than 1800 tigers left in the wild in India. This census woke up the Government of India and in 1972 a new Wildlife Act was promulgated and hunting was totally banned in India. In 1973 the “Project Tiger” was launched as a joint initiative between WWF and Government of India. Initially 9 forested areas were selected under the Project Tiger and these were notified as Project Tiger Reserves. Ranthambhore was one of these 9 reserves. However, unlike the other 8 reserves (which had a reasonably healthy population of tigers), Ranthambhore hardly had any tigers and the forests in Ranthambhore were pretty thrashed compared to those in the other 8 reserves.
A large part of Ranthambhore lies on the Aravali mountain range – that, extend from Delhi in the north-east to Gujrat in the south-west. Aravalis (along with the Appalachians and Urals) are the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Like the rest of India, Aravalis were thickly forested in the early 20th century. By the middle of the 20th century most of these forests disappeared along with the tigers and the other animals that lived in them. At that time these forests were considered as a Revenue source and the trees were harvested for timber and wood charcoal. By the time Ranthambhore came under the umbrella of Project Tiger, legal harvesting of timber had come to an end and legal hunting was banned. By that time years of hunting and tree harvesting had taken its toll. There were hardly any tigers left, the tree cover was minimal and the population of ungulates was at its lowest.