Tigers of Ranthambhore India
Tigers are difficult to observe in the wild, due in part, to the small number that remain, their preferred habitat of tall vegetation that obstructs viewing, and restrictions imposed by the parks on the number of visitors allowed and their access once inside the reserve. There are some 45 Tiger reserves in India, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_Reserves_of_India, but I have only visited the reserve at Ranthambhore.
The Ranthambhore national park is divided into 5 central zones (zones 1-5) known as Ranthambhore NP, see Fig1. Ranthambhore zones map, and 3 overflow zones (zones 6,7,8) known as Chidikho, Kundal, and Balas; the latter areas having few reported tiger sightings. The five central zones cover a variety of habitats, from steep escarpments and perennial lakes and streams to large areas of Savannah and tall broad leaf forests that are deciduous providing good viewing conditions.
A special feature of Ranthambhore is its ambiance deep within the forest where a strange stillness evokes a sense of apprehension and anticipation; a feeling that a tiger must be close at hand. Another positive feature, is that the nocturnal behaviour of the tigers in the park is gradually changing, becoming more active and visible during the day.
The chance per session of seeing a tiger can be small, requiring multiple safari trips to have a reasonable prospect of witnessing a tiger. One visitor, see http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=2002868 , reported a success rate of 18% over 17 trips during December to January 2011. When I went in November, my success rate was 25%, and my guides advised that the best time to visit the park was during March- April, when high daytime temperatures force the tigers to water, increasing the likelihood of a sighting per visit to 50% or more.
♦ There are two 3 hour trips per day at 6:00-7:30 and 14:00-15:30 (summer/winter).
♦ The zone assigned per jeep is determined randomly by computer before the start of the trip. If the booking is for both morning and afternoon sessions, two different zones will be allocated.
♦ The first vehicles in the park stand a better chance of seeing wildlife that has not yet been disturbed by other vehicles.
♦ Zones 2, 3, 4 seem to have the most sightings. Zones 2 and 3 have the most water and thus the best chance of sighting during summer. Zone 3 has a wonderful ambiance. Zone 4 is more hilly.
♦ The open-sided jeeps (Gypsies) seat up to 8 persons including driver and guide. They are small and extremely quiet.
♦ There are also open-sided mini trucks (canters) that seat 10-20 persons. These are cheaper to book, but are more restricted in where they can travel.
♦ A total of 15 jeeps and 15 canters are allowed into the central zone per session.
♦ Individual bookings can be done directly online at http://www.rajasthanwildlife.in/make_your_trip/Ranthmbor/planyourtrip.jsp .
♦ As demand for the jeeps (Gypsies) exceeds capacity, it is advisable to book well ahead.
♦ Some extra seats become available the day or so before. To get these seats, some resort hotels will employ a person to stand in queue throughout the night/day to purchase the tickets when the ticket office makes them available for the desired day.
♦ On one occasion, I witnessed a tiger chase a deer into the water at a distance of 30m. However, I was unable to get any usable images of the hunt, as the four people sitting in the first two rows obscured the action. One way to overcome such a problem would be to book a jeep for the sole use as a professional photographer / media. Some resorts are prepared to handle the necessary paperwork, provided you book an extended stay with them. E.g. Ranthambhore Bagh, http://www.ranthambhore.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Dev Vilas, http://www.devvilas.com. Email: email@example.com.
♦ There are many hotels and resorts in the area. Some are quite close to the park entrance making it easier to be in one of the first jeeps into the park.