The tiger is the big draw in India animal tourism. The country has set aside 37 areas as tiger reserves–but all of them seem to claim they have the “highest tiger density in the world.” India has about 1,400 of the world’s surviving 2,500 wild tigers. But tigers are still regularly slaughtered for Chinese medicine or by farmers. It’s gotten so bad that two of the tiger reserves were found to be tiger-free. So how can you find tigers? We think we’ve found a way to calculate real density using official wildlife reports.
A 2008 report estimated the tiger population at each of the reserves. Status of Tigers, Co-Predators and Prey in India each park’s estimated population and range, so I calculated the density in each.
Biologists tend to discuss animal density in how many animals per square 100km, but I find those measures harder to picture. So I calculated how much space per tiger. Corbett had one tiger per 9.3 square km. Nearby Dudhwa allowed 11.5 square km per tiger. Tiny Ranthambore had 32 tigers in 344, or one tiger per 10.8 square km.
The agency calculated the northeast provinces differently, not giving details on each park. The state of Assam had a density of about one tiger per 16.6 square km of habitat. To be clear, that’s just in the habitat they use, not the whole state. So, in the areas where you find tigers in Assam, you’ll find them at a rate of one per 17 square km, give or take. Kazaringa is Assam’s big park, where they do ground-breaking saving rhinos, so it stands to reason they might be a bit ahead of the rest of the province.
Roughly each of those parks have somewhere in the neighborhood of one tiger per 10 square km. If you those parks were the size of Manhattan, they’d have six tigers in them. If they were the size of Yellowstone, they’d have 900 tigers–that’s double Yellowstone’s grizzly density.
Corbett is the oldest reserve and popular even though it’s a bit off the beaten track near Nepal. The park most tourists go to see tigers is Ranthambore in Rajastan, where the tigers are known for not being shy. The tigers’ attitudes and the landscape play a huge role in how many tigers you’ll see.
The rest seem much more iffy. The population estimates at the Indian Tiger Welfare Society are years, if not a decade, stale.
The official Indian estimation of tiger reserve strength shows that population density is considered good in less than 30%, or 11, of the 37 reserves. All the tigers here are Royal Bengal Tigers (Panthera tigris tigris). The Indian government’s Project Tiger has been putting aside more and more land for the big cats since 1973. But 20 of the reserves have poor or low tiger density; two (Panna and Sariska) lost all their tigers and eight suffer from disturbances by what the government calls extremists, who range from tea workers to Maoists.
The hippie-tourist area Kerala area looks pretty grim, though the report does mention that it’s because of habitat, not management.
Where to Go See Big Cats
Where to See Wildlife in Asia
See the full guide to India’s Tiger Reserves