My husband Dave had his heart set on seeing a wild tiger when we visited India in 2008, so we planned a safari in Ranthambore National Park. The temperature was a chilly four degrees as we clambered into our open-air jeep at six in the morning to begin our tiger hunt. I was happy to be wedged in tightly between Dave and a banker from London named Sidney. The two men on either side of me blocked the wind and helped keep me warm.
When we visited in 2008 it wasn’t easy to see a tiger in the wild in India. There were only about 1000 left in the whole country. That’s because even in protected areas poachers continued to kill tigers and sell them to Chinese vendors. Their clients used tiger organs for making traditional medicines. The tiger population was also dwindling because people were cutting down trees for fuel, destroying the tiger’s forest habitat.
Despite this, everyone said Ranthambore was the place where we had the best chance of seeing a tiger. We spent three and a half hours looking for one. Our jeep stopped several times so our driver could talk to tiger-trackers who roam Ranthambore looking for the elusive beasts. Despite their best advice, the closest we came to seeing a tiger was to see the paw prints of one in the sand.
When we were in India over a decade ago a new initiative had just been started to increase the tiger population. I was so happy to read this week that it has been successful. India now has nearly 3000 tigers triple that of the 2008 numbers when we visited. By 2022 they hope to have nearly doubled the current population. Increased forest cover and stricter enforcement of conservation laws have made a huge difference.
I am not sure if I am ready for another pre-dawn freezing tiger safari, so if you’d like to volunteer to accompany my husband on his next, hopefully, more successful hunt for a tiger in India, I’d be glad to give you my seat in the jeep.