Tiger Watch is an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) based in Ranthambhore that is headed by Mr. Fateh Singh Rathore. If there is one person who should get the credit for setting up this park, it is this man in the picture below.
He came to Ranthambhore in 1960 when it was still the private hunting ground of the Jaipur royal family (though the Government of Rajasthan technically owned the forest). In 1960, the Jaipur royal family invited the Queen of England and the Duke of Edinburgh (who is now an “avid” conservationist) to shoot a tiger in Ranthambhore. At that time Colonel Kesri Singh – a very “colorful” person – who was in charge of Ranthambhore was getting very old. Fateh Singh, who had just joined the Rajasthan Forest Service, was sent here to assist the Colonel in making arrangements for the Queen. The queen came and left without shooting a tiger (she famously “sprained her trigger finger”) but Fateh Singh stayed on as a Ranger posted to look after the forest. During that visit the Duke did shoot a tiger – the last one that was shot here legally. In 1973, when Ranthambhore was declared as a “Project Tiger reserve” he was made the Deputy Field Director and later on he became the Director of the reserve.
He had a very controversial career but that cannot detract from the fact that he made Ranthambhore what it is today. He was responsible for creating most of the waterholes here (including all the lakes), for shifting the 12 villages out of the park and for such efficient monitoring and policing of the park that within a decade of it being declared a Project Tiger Reserve, Ranthambhore became the best place in the world to see wild tigers. After his retirement from the Rajasthan Forest Service he has settled down in a farm on the outskirts of Ranthambhore. After the disastrous poaching incidents of the early 1990s, Fateh set up “Tiger Watch” with the aim of monitoring the tigers’ health in Ranthambhore and acting as a pressure group for tigers benefit. Tiger Watch is not very popular with the Rajasthan Forest department but with objectives like that you cannot be popular with the forest department.
In October 2003 Dr. Dharmendra Khandal joined Tiger Watch as a Research Officer for their “Tiger Monitoring Project”. Dharmendra has one his PhD. In botany and is probably the foremost expert on spiders in India. He is a very focused young man who is totally obsessed with wildlife. I got to know him as soon as he arrived in Ranthambhore and we are now very close friends.
As part of his project, the first task that Dharmendra had to accomplish was to identify the different tigers that were in the park. This is easier said than done. In 1999, Dr. Ulhas Karanth and his team from the Wildlife Conservation Society had conducted a tiger density study using camera traps in about 25% of the area of the park. They had “trapped” 16 different tigers in their infrared trip cameras. Dharmendra used these 16 tigers as his first reference point and to this he added the database of 22 different tiger identification images that I had collected from 1999 to 2002. By merging these two data he got together identification pictures of about 25 different tigers, like the one above. During the span of his project that went on from October 2003 to June 2004, he added about a dozen more tigers – most of them were born after 2002 but some of them were those that we had missed. On the 30th of June 2004 he submitted a report to the forest department that “there are 18 tigers missing” from Ranthambhore. He did not mean, at that time, that these are dead but rather that they are not being seen and someone should look into it………………The forest department took immediate action on this report – they withdrew the permission that Tiger watch had to conduct research in the park. The authorities in India do not like such reports.