Ranthambhore National Park, like all project Tiger Reserves in India, shuts down for visitors during the monsoons. Since Ranthambhore lies in Rajasthan – the driest Indian state – it only shuts down for three months of monsoons, from July to September. This is the most dangerous time for the big predators.
Due to the monsoon rains the undergrowth and grasses inside the park are lush green and this makes for excellent fodder for ungulates and cattle. The villagers enter the park with their cattle and often get into violent fights with the forest department staff. As a result many of the more isolated forest guard-houses (or chowkies) inside the park are abandoned. Many of the smaller guard-houses have 2-3 forest guards and these few guards neither have the will nor the resources to take on the more numerous and organized groups of villagers. During the monsoons the park is an “open house” for all – the illegal grazers, wood-cutters and poachers.
It is widely believed that most of the poaching incidents occur during the monsoons but this is not true. Most of the big cat poaching occurs during the summer months of May and June, when it is easy to find the big cats. During the peak of summers – in May and June – most of the smaller waterholes dry out and water is available in very few places in the park. Since the big cats during summers, particularly tigers, tend to spend most of their time in or near water, it is very easy to find them. During the monsoons there is water and fodder for the prey species all over the park and as a result the ungulates are spread out all over the park. Since there is prey and water all over, the tigers also tend to spread out all over. As a result it is more difficult to find them. So even though there is hardly any protection in the park during the monsoon months of July, August and September, tigers are generally more secure in the park during monsoons then they are in summers.
However during the monsoons there are a lot of cattle and cattle herders inside the park. Tigers often kill the cattle because they are easy prey. During such times the tigers are at great risk. It would take a tiger 3-4 days to finish eating a cattle kill. During these 3-4 days they tend to stay near the kill, leaving it only for short periods of time. Since cattle is a very valuable resource for the local villagers, even one kill can be a bad set back for them. To take revenge they would sometimes “get back” a the tiger. They do this by either poisoning the carcass when the tiger is away or by tipping off a mogiya about the kill. The mogiya then stakes out the kill and shoots the tiger when it returns to the kill. Either ways it means a dead tiger.
At least one such incident happened during the monsoons of 2004. There may have been more but we definitely know of one. In July 2004, just after the first showers, the local villagers entered the park with their cattle. For the last 3-4 years the forest department was under a lot of pressure to stop grazing in the park during the monsoons. Since this was not possible for them to do, they declared that there was “zero grazing’ in 2004 monsoons. This pleased everybody. The local forest officers did not have to face any flak, the senior forest officers in Jaipur were happy and the conservationists were happy. Only the wildlife was not happy because the park was full of cattle.
Somewhere in August a male tiger killed a bull in “Peeli ghati” near the village of Uliyana. The villagers tipped of Devi Singh Mogiya – an extremely dangerous poacher who is now behind bars. Devi Singh set up a hide (or machaan) near the carcass and when the tiger returned to the kill he shot him dead. The next month Devi Singh killed another tiger in Kachida kid eh. This is a permanent waterhole about a 100 meters away from the Kachida chowki (or guard house). The guards of this chowki regularly use this waterhole for taking a bath and doing their laundry. Surprisingly, on the day that Devi Singh killed this tiger, the guards neither heard the gun shot nor did they go near the water hole for the next few days, which was more than enough time for Devi Singh to skin the tiger and take the bones out of the carcass.