The Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand was declared India’s best maintained tiger reserve by the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2007. With 164-178 tigers and 40-50 cubs (exact count is impossible) within a 10-square-km area, it has the highest tiger density in the world.
Rajiv Bharati, park director from April 2005 to August 2008 and the man largely credited for its success, discusses his experience:
When I joined Corbett, forest staff morale was low. One of our employees had been attacked and injured by a tigress. The high court, in response to a petition, had summoned the chief secretary and chief wildlife warden of Uttarakhand to explain the deteriorating condition of the park.
I was under pressure. But I had the advantage of knowing the park thoroughly, having worked there as deputy director from 1993 to 1999.
My first step was to build a solar powered fence around the core area to protect visitors and staff from the tigers. Tourists were prohibited from entering the inner area, which was left completely free for tigers and other wildlife.
If the park was to function well, I had to raise staff morale. I got their houses renovated, started a mess where they could have their meals, had more toilets built for them and provided clean drinking water.
Once the staff's initial hostility had been overcome, I formed groups of officials and volunteers to patrol the park regularly. It helped to both monitor the tiger population and prevent poaching.
We formed a Tiger Task Force comprising retired army personnel and village youth to keep an eye out for poachers. We also began systematically gathering intelligence on poachers with the help of revenue and police officials of both Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
All these initiatives needed funds. After consulting local hotel owners, we raised tourist entry fee from Rs 100 to Rs 250. Our annual income promptly rose to Rs 32 lakh which gave us the funds we needed.
I must give credit to the forest staff and villagers who helped me.
(As told to Chetan Chauhan)