The History of Ranthambhore National Park
Till early 20th century there was excellent forest cover almost all over India and exploitation of forests to fulfil local needs had a negligible impact. The forests of Ranthambhore were the private and exclusive hunting reserves of the Jaipur and Karauli royal family, managed by a separate Shikar Khana (Hunting Department). In selected areas of the forests used for hunting by the royalty, grazing and tree felling were strictly forbidden, but there were few restrictions elsewhere. After payment of an annual tax, local villagers were allowed to take many kinds of forest produce for their private use. However, due to the low population density, there was hardly any damage to the forests.
By the end of the first quarter of the 20th century, the need for conservation of forests was being felt all over India. The population was growing rapidly and forests in most parts of India were coming under pressure. In Ranthambhore, the system of “royalty permits” for commercial felling (mainly for firewood and charcoal) of entire blocks of forests was taking its toll on the habitat. In 1925, the Jaipur state created a post of Superintendent of Forests and in 1939 the Jaipur Forest Act was enacted – the first few steps taken for conservation of Ranthambhore.
The Rajasthan Forest Act was enacted in 1953, giving these forests more legal protection. In 1955, these forests were declared as Sawai Madhopur Sanctuary and the practice of sale of forest produce through royalty permits came to an end. This was when the forests received their first “real” protection. However, legal hunting continued till 1973 and by then the tiger population and the habitat was almost totally decimated.
In 1973, part of this sanctuary came under the Project Tiger Scheme, initiated by the Govt. of India and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It was one of the first nine Tiger reserve areas taken up in the country under Project Tiger. At that time there were 16 villages inside the sanctuary but between 1976 and 1979, 12 of these villages were shifted outside the sanctuary.
In 1980 an area of 282 sq km of the inner part of Sawai Madhopur Sanctuary was declared as a National Park. Since then the Rajasthan State Government stopped collection of any forest produce from the sanctuary and human activity within the national park was reduced to a bare minimum. Besides, 12 villages that were located in the national park were shifted out of the park.
In the year 1983, 647 sq km of forests lying to the north of the national park were declared as the Keladevi Sanctuary and included in the Ranthambhore Tiger Project. Similarly, in 1984, 130 sq km of forest on the south of the National park was declared as Sawai Mansingh Sanctuary and included in Project Tiger Ranthambhore.
During the 1970s, tiger sightings were extremely rare in Ranthambhore but as a result of the decade long protection given to the forests, by the mid-80s, Ranthambhore National Park became the best place in the world to see wild tigers.
Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve attained notoriety for illegal poaching of tigers in 1991-1992, when a large number of tigers were poached and some tiger skins were recovered from local people. Since then, the forest authorities became very strict and the tiger population gradually recovered. By 2001, the Park boasted nearly 40 tigers, a density of nearly 10 tigers per 100 sq km - which was at that time one of the highest in the world.
Between 2003 and 2004, the demand for tiger skin and parts from China and Tibet shot up and poachers, once again, again hit Ranthambhore. A large number of tigers were killed but by the middle of 2005, the authorities, managed to control this threat and arrest a number of tiger poachers. Poaching has not been a serious threat in these forests since then and with the birth of several tiger cubs, the tiger population recovered once again.