On the 1st of October 2004 the park reopened for tourists – the beginning of a new tourist season for Ranthambore national park. I remember the safari on the 1st morning. The park was lush green (it is like that only in the month of October) and all the waterholes were overflowing. I found a lot of evidence of cattle, in the form of their hoof prints on the ground and dung, all over the park. That is when the alarm bells started ringing. All through the monsoons the forest authorities were claiming that there was “zero grazing” during the last 3 month but the evidence that we found on the ground said something else. If the cattle grazers were all over the park, the poachers should also have been inside. Which was true, as we later found out.
October 2004 to April 2005 was expected to be a very busy tourist season and it was. Between October and November the tourists who visited the park had some great tiger sightings and every body was happy. The hotels, guides, taxi owners and drivers were making good money and were very happy. The forest department went around telling anybody who cared to listen that since the tourists were seeing tigers every day there was no poaching problem what so ever.
However, tourists are permitted on seven different routes in the park and all these seven routes put together cover less than half the park’s area. There was no one covering the other half, except for the forest department. The department also made sure that none of the tourist vehicles strayed from the routes. Were they trying to hide something? Were they aware that something was really wrong in the park? By the beginning of November it was getting more and more obvious that mot of the tiger sightings were happening only in three different areas – Berda valley, the area of the lakes and in the Lahpur valley. The rest of the areas in the tourism zone of the ranthambore national park were drawing a blank – not a total blank but close to it.
The tourism zone of the Ranthambhore national park, which covers about half the park, is the best part of the park. On record the forest department states that the prime areas of the park are out of bounds for tourists. The reality, however, is that the areas where tourists do not go are thrashed. These areas have the highest disturbance anywhere in the park – disturbance from illegal tree felling, illegal grazing, grass cutting and poaching. The least disturbed areas are the ones that tourists visit. Of course these areas have “disturbance” in the form of tourists and their vehicles but this disturbance is nothing compared to the disturbance that exists in areas where tourists do not go.
The forest department keeps harping about “the disturbance due to tourists” in the Ranthambore but they never talk about the real disturbance in the park, the one, which is due to people who just should not be in the park. The thing is that they never let this disturbance get on their records so as far as they are concerned it just does not exist. If one goes through the records, neither a single tree nor a blade of grass has ever been cut inside the park. And of course there has never been any poaching in the park – ever.