Ranthambhore National Park – a Game Reserve turned into a Wildlife Sanctuary
Ranthambhore National Park is one of the Tiger Reserves in India, and a world renowed destination for its large Bengal Tiger population. Ranthambore was first established in 1955 as a Governmental Game Sanctuary. But today, the Maharajas’ former hunting ground has been turned into a major wildlife sanctuary, and recently became a world class destination for nature lovers and wildlife photographers. It has an annual turnover of US$ 3 million in park fees. They get approximately 60,000 overseas visitors and 400,000 local visitors.
Through a successful phased approach, in 1973 the Indian government started Project Tiger and allotted an area of 60 km2 of the park as a tiger sanctuary. The main goal of Project Tiger was the elimination of all forms of human exploitation and biotic disturbance from the Park core area and rationalization of activities in its buffer zones.
This area later expanded to become what is now the Ranthambhore National Park. Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve today spreads over an area of 1334 km2 out of which Ranthambhore National Park forms the core with a 392 km2 area and the buffer sanctuaries – The Mansingh Sanctuary and the Kalia Devi Sanctuary forming the rest 942 km2 area. Ranthambore became a National Park in 1980 and it is today classified as IUCN category II.
Wildlife Ranthambhore is known for its Bengal tigers, and it is a popular place in India to see these animals in their natural habitat: the jungle. Major wild animal species other than tiger are the Indian leopard, carcal, nilgai, wild boar, sambar, striped hyena, sloth bear, southern plains gray langur, rhesus macaque, mugger crocodile and cheetal. Reptiles like crocodiles, turtles, Indian Rock Python and many species of snakes are found in Ranthambore.
Ranthambhore is a paradise for birds watchers : due to its varied terrain and abundance of water bodies, has an excellent population of both resident and migratory birds species. In total, a list of over 272 species have been documented.
Botanically, The park consists of typical dry deciduous elements with Anogesissus pendula forests – a dominant tree species. However, deciduous elements could be seen in the valleys and along water bodies. The Flora of the Park is represented by 539 species of flowering plants.
There are only a few Safari Lodges in India who have applied a philosophy of linking tourism with conservation. Ranthambhore is indeed one of them. Unlike the African context , India has very small National Parks, and an extremely large human population surrounding the their areas. All operators of Lodges as well as Tours are lndian who are local residents of this area.
Project Tiger’s efforts were hampered by the complexity of a Tigers and humans co-existance, and in particular poaching. As park tourism and the population of neighbouring villages increased, there were more frequent fatal human-tiger interactions and poaching events.
Thakur Balendu Singh, belongs to a family of ex-hunters who know this area intimately. He has turned his knowledge to wildlife conservation and opened hotel Dev Vilas, fifteen years ago to be close to nature and share his passion for Ranthampore’s wild wonders with guests who come to visit Ranthambhore and stay with them. He was also appointed a Honorary Wildlife Warden for three years by the Government.
At Ranthambhore, the Ranthambhore Foundation was created so that all revenues generated by Park Fees are reinvested by the Park authorities for the Park management and maintenance and for conflicts’ resolution such as paying compensation to local residents for crop and cattle loss due to wildlife occurrence and attacks. This has led to almost zero revenge killing of animals by farmers , and reduced poaching. Also, as a correct management has created conditions for the Ranthambhore Park to accumulate a large corpus from Tourism to support conservation activities.
The Foundation works closely with Tiger Watch, a local NGO which is working at several programs, among which the reduction of man – animal conflicts, research & wildlife monitoring programs and protection anti poaching measures. Tiger Watch also operates a hostel for children of a hunter gatherer community and the first generation of children are being educated so that they will move away from their traditional livelihood which was hunting.
Tourism has definitely been an engine for developing several environmental and social projects, and has supported several conservation programs. It has also helped provide funds for improving park infrastructure, replenishing waterholes, improving patroling tracks and, providing wireless sets for the park rangers.
Several additional NGOs work for the benefit of local residents, in particular targeting women. Among others, the NGOs Dastkar and Dhonk are successful in providing development projects and alternative forms of income and employment to women.
All these activities are entirely supported through the cash flow generated by tourism and visitors entry fees to the Park. The Park collects the fees and then redirects it to the NGO’s and other conservation activities.
Today, Ranthambhore National Park is a showcase and a model of partnership between an lodge owner, the Government Authority and NGOs working together and creating synergies for wildlife conservation and community development. This model is in the process of being further strengthened to include more like-minded organisations and individuals joining efforts for a purpose.
We believe that their is strength in numbers and that if more organisations and individual join this cause the park will be well protected.
The establishment of additional partnerships with other authorities and organisations, in particular with other park management bodies and community development organisations, could enable additional tour operators to join, enlarge or replicate this model of collaboration.
This could encourage a broader knowledge sharing process at a regional and national level and might encourage tour operators activities towards a direction which amplifies and increases the benefits generated by tourism, and supports at the same time several national parks and surrounding local communities.
A partnership with another national park region in India could be a way to transfer experience from this example.