India’s Disappearing Tigers

I admit I’d hoped for something a little more exciting after a seven-and-a-half-hour journey from New Delhi to one of India’s best-known wildlife parks. It’s not that we didn’t see any wildlife when we made the trek late last month to the Corbett National Park in the northern state of Uttaranchal.

On our outing to the forests and grass lands of the 1300-square-kilometre park we saw 4 deer, 3 wild boar, 2 rabbits, lots of monkeys—and a giant frog. But this is also India’s oldest tiger sanctuary, home to 162 Bengal tigers. And we didn’t see a single one.

Gopal Dutt Sayal, general manager of the hotel we stayed at, warns tourists that although the park, named after British hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett, is known for having one of the highest concentrations of tigers in the country, they shouldn’t get their hopes up. ‘There’s roughly only a four percent chance of seeing a tiger,’ says Sayal, a qualified naturalist.

However, he adds that the 162 tigers recorded in 2009 was still a healthy increase on the 134 counted the year before.

It’s a rare piece of good news for conservation efforts surrounding the biggest of the big cats, and India’s national animal. WWF India says at the turn of the 20th century, India had an estimated 40,000 wild tigers. Yet by 2002, a pugmark (footprint) census indicated the number had fallen to 3,642. A landmark 2008 monitoring exercise, meanwhile, suggested that the decline was even more alarming, claiming there were only 1,411 tigers left.

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