india overview tiger

Tiger Conservation: Where to See Tigers in the Wild

india overview tiger

From The Jungle Book to The Life of Pi, tigers have always held a magical, mystical place in our collective imagination. Their ninja-like stealth, impressive hunting prowess, and sheer size (up to 10 feet from nose to tail, weighing up to 570 pounds) make them a fearsome presence rivaled only by African lions.

But the tiger’s reputation as one of nature’s most effective apex predators has come at a price. Because they are territorial, solitary but social creatures, and require a huge amount of habitat to support their need for prey, tigers have experienced devastating conflicts with humans across their native range.

But this year brought exceptional news. Thanks to tiger conservation initiatives led by organizations such as
World Wildlife Fund, Panthera and the National Tiger Conservation Authority of India, the number of wild tigers is on the rise for the first time in over a century.

Here we’ll take a look at some of the threats these majestic cats are still facing, how tiger conservation practices are helping, and explore some of the best places to see tigers in the wild.

Photographing tiger in India
The Cry of the Tiger

For Tigers, the 20th century was an extremely bleak time during which they were eliminated from 93% of their historic range.  Of the 10 recognized Tiger subspecies (one of which went extinct in prehistoric times), three – the Bali and Java tigers of Indonesia, and the more widespread Caspian tiger – were completely wiped out by the late 1970s. Of the six subspecies that remain, Malayan, South China and Sumatran tigers are Critically Endangered, while Bengal, Indochinese and Siberian tigers are currently listed as Endangered.

The world’s tiger population in the early 1900s was estimated at over 100,000, dropping to around 3,000 by the end of the century. Destruction and fragmentation of their habitat became a major issue, restricting them to isolated pockets within their historic range. Poaching tigers for fur and other body parts has also become increasingly problematic over the last few decades, as high demand for use in traditional Chinese medicine has raised prices considerably.

Pair of tigers
The Tiger Conservation Success Story

According to information provided by various national surveys, there are around 3,890 tigers in the wild now – more than a 20% increase from the estimated 3,200 that existed in 2010. That’s not only great news for tigers (and those of us who love them), but also evidence that modern approaches to wildlife conservation can help make a difference in saving endangered species.

The impressive progress came as the result of a partnership that began in 2010, when governments of various countries met and pledged to double wild tiger population numbers by 2022. Working together with local communities, philanthropists, and various conservation-focused NGOs, they began tracking their respective tiger populations and trying to understand the myriad threats these animals faced.

India, which is home to the world’s largest tiger population, briefly imposed a
tiger tourism ban in 2012, requiring all states to identify core habitat zones and buffer zones of their tiger reserves. Once the ban was overturned by India’s Supreme Court a few months later, local governments began regulating the number of visitors allowed in the country’s 40+ national parks and wildlife reserves.
Tigers in Kanha National Park

Where to See Tigers in the Wild

India is home to more than half of the world’s wild tigers, and a key component in plans to grow the population. So it’s arguably the best place to see tigers in the wild. Of course there’s no such thing as a guaranteed tiger sighting, but here are a few of the best national parks in India for tiger safaris:

Bandhavgarh National Park: This wildlife sanctuary in the state of Madhya Pradesh boasts the highest density of tigers in Asia, with more than 50 animals spread out over 100 square kilometers. The park also offers wildlife lovers a chance to spot a host of other species, including chital deer, wild boar, nilgai antelope, Indian bison, wild dog, leopard, blue bull, Indian fox and bear.

Kahna National Park: Another Madhya Pradesh park, Kanha famously provided inspiration for The Jungle Book. Established in 1955 and covering 750 square miles, the picturesque park’s wide open meadows offer scenic sightings of a diverse array of wildlife, including tigers, leopards, common langurs, striped hyenas, pangolins, and an endangered deer species called the hard-ground barasingha, another great conservation story that you won’t find anywhere else.

Ranthambore National Park:
One of India's largest national parks (828 square miles), Ranthambore is a favorite among photographers due to the fact that you can find tigers, leopards, and ancient ruins of a fort where the animals are often spotted. The park also has three lakes where copious wildlife congregates, including sloth bears, hyenas, Indian foxes, jackals and crocodiles.

International Expeditions offers travel to India focusing on exploration of the cultural highlights while being immersed in the nature of multiple national parks. Check out IE's incredible Explorer's India tours and India Wildlife adventure or new Brahmaputra River Cruise to start planning your adventure.

Bret Love is a journalist/editor with 23 years of print and online experience, whose clients have ranged from the Atlanta Journal Constitution and American Airlines to National Geographic and Yahoo Travel. Along with his wife, photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, he is the co-founder of ecotourism website Green Global Travel and Green Travel Media.