The end of 1980s was probably the best time for tigers in Ranthambhore. There were over 40 of them – which was amazingly high density for a park that is less than 400 square kilometers. People were coming from all over the world to see tigers. At that time Ranthambhore was definitely the best place in the word to see tigers.
During the end of 1980s the management of the park went to the pits. The problem with management of all protected areas in India is that a lot depends on the quality of the top officers in charge. If they are good the park does very well but if they are incompetent (and most of them are) the park can literally be destroyed in a few years. That’s is just want happened to Ranthambhore in the end of 1980s. The officers who were in charge at the highest level were totally incompetent. They ignored all the warning signs that were there for all to see.
Since the beginning of 1989 the drivers of the jeeps that took tourists around the park had been reporting that the sightings of tigers were going down. The park authorities initially ignored these warnings and later on they started prosecuting the drivers who gave them such reports. By the beginning of 1990 it became obvious to all but the authorities that tigers were disappearing.
The main entrance to the park is from the Fort gate and at that time there was a tigress with 3 cubs whose territory was around this main entrance. Since tiger families are highly visible, most of the officials would go in the park and find this family almost immediately. They would then argue that since they found four tigers in a few minutes, there was no problem in the park.
By the beginning of 1991 it became very obvious that a lot of tigers were missing. There were large areas where there was no evidence of presence of tigers but since the tigress and her cubs at the main gate was being seen, the officials totally ignored these danger signals. One day in early 1991, even this family disappeared. Around the same time one person was arrested with a tiger skin in the Sawai Madhopur railway station. The information that lead to the arrest of this person was provided by Mr. Fateh Singh Rathore, who was the Field Director at the Siriska Tiger Reserve – about 200 kilometers away from here. It was really amazing – that one man who was sitting 200 kilometers away had rock solid information about tiger poaching in Ranthambhore, while the forest department authorities’ who were based in Ranthambhore were not only clueless but were actually denying it.
By that time the whole situation had blown up and Ranthambhore became infamous all over the world. The state government instead of actively going after the poaching network took a series of measures that were ridiculous. They set up a one-man committee called the “Kumat committee”, named after the only member retired Justice Kumat. This man had no clue about tigers and their problems but he was an expert at brushing all “controversial” issues under the carpet. And that is what he did. He suggested a series of measures that did not help the tigers in the least and some of these are still a burden for the tigers of Ranthambhore.