When the Project Tiger was launched in 1973, Ranthambhore was one of the first 9 reserves that was taken up under the project. At that time there were hardly any tigers in Ranthambhore. Mr. Fateh Singh Rathore of the Tiger Watch, who was the Director of Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve for a long time, was in-charge in 1973. He has told me a number of times that between 1973 and 1976 they did not see single tiger in Ranthambhore. They used to see pugmarks (or paw prints) once in a few months and on that day there would be a lot of celebrations.
One of the first few tasks that the management had to take up was to relocate the 16 villages that existed inside Ranthambhore. A lot of effort and time went into relocating 12 of these 16 villages. A new village called Kailashpuri – after Kailash Sankhla (the first all India Director of Project Tiger) – was set up outside the reserve and over a period of a few years 12 villages were relocated. The other 4 villages are still inside Ranthambhore, though efforts are on right now to relocate them. However, to be fair to the present day management, it must be made clear that 1970s were heady days for the Project Tiger. Indira Gandhi – who was the Prime Minister of India at that time – was backing the Project Tiger to the hilt. The villagers around here were illiterate and did not know their rights. The Forest officers in the mid 70s gave the villagers two options – either get out voluntarily or get thrown out forcibly. It is not possible to do this now a days as the villagers are aware of their rights and human rights activists would not let such a thing happen.
A few years after the villages were relocated the forest around the villages rejuvenated. The fields around the villages became thick forests in a few years. By the early 1980s the tiger population had not only gone up but the tigers of Ranthambhore became Diurnal. That meant that the tigers were feeling secure enough to be moving around in the day in plain sight of man. The ban on hunting that was on for a decade was certainly working.
In the 1980s Ranthambhore became the best place in the world to see wild tigers. According to an estimate by the end of 1980s over 90% of all the images of wild tigers in the world were taken in Ranthambhore. 1980s was the best time for Ranthambhore’s tigers and they made Ranthambhore famous. If you have seen the National Geographic’s footage of Chenghis – a big male tiger – charging across the lake and catching a sambar deer, you know what I mean.