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Rare, beautiful and dignified; tigers are an iconic member of the animal kingdom whose presence in the wild is constantly under threat. Following years of poaching and habitat destruction, tiger populations had been falling for the last century with little sign of curbing. However, intense conservation efforts, formally initiated in 2010, have seen global tiger numbers rise from 3,200 to 3,890. Two thirds of this population live in India and efforts to conserve and protect these beautiful animals are slowly but surely paying off. With increased patrols against poaching, compensation for farmers who have lost livestock and the growth of designated tiger reserves, India is leading the world in tiger conservation. These reserves are open to visitors and are a great way to contribute to wildlife conservation efforts during your time in India.
With that in mind, here is our guide to India’s most prominent tiger reserves – what to expect, what to see and how to experience them.
Declared a national park in 1986, and a dedicated tiger reserve in 1993, Bandhavgarh National Park boasts one of India’s highest tiger populations. With 68 counted at last census, a few days here is likely to earn you a sighting or two. The park itself covers approximately 440 square kilometres and is home to diverse and vibrant wildlife. As well as its iconic big cats, Bandhavgarh boasts 22 other species of mammal including sloth bears, leopards and spotted deer. It’s also a bird watchers paradise with over 250 species frequenting these forested hills.
Safari game drives are the best way to get around the park and having expert advice on hand can prove invaluable. Local wildlife experts can join your tour, offering insight into the ecosystem and its many inhabitants. The main base for visitor is the village of Tala which is home to multiple hotels and lodges. It’s also a fascinating place in its own right; a quintessential, rural Indian village waiting to be explored.
The most famous tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh, and the setting for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Kanha is as vast as it is vibrant. Its sal forests and sprawling meadows cover 1,945 square kilometres, making it an ideal location for intense safari immersion. Dense vegetation and undulating landscape mean that sightings are less common here than at Bandhavgargh, but the park is still well worth a visit. It also boasts 22 species of mammal and hundreds of birds, but the main appeal of this particular reserve is its sheer scale. This is sprawling wilderness in its purest form and that alone is sure to take your breath away.
As with Bandhavgargh, safari game drives are the main way to navigate the park. Local naturalists are also available and can share their knowledge of the ecosystem and its wildlife. Unlike the other tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh, Kanha offers accommodation options inside the park. Tented camps offer a cosy and comfortable way to stay right at the heart of the action and keep your safari experience as immersive as possible.
Deriving its name from the river flowing through its heart, Pench Tiger Reserve is less visited than Kanha and Bandhavgargh. 50 tigers were recorded in this area at last count but, like Kanha, sightings here are quite elusive due to the sheer density of vegetation. Despite this, Pench is certainly a worthwhile addition to any India itinerary. With 1,921 square kilometres to explore, its sprawling teak forests will feel like your own personal wilderness. Compared to its fellow reserves, Pench is probably the strongest contender for avian enthusiasts. The park is home to approximately 275 types of bird, including four species of endangered vultures.
For bird lovers, the Bodhanala range is widely considered the best area in the park. With sloping hills, bamboo forests and a large central pond, it’s a thriving birdlife ecosystem which can be easily reached during a safari drive. As with Kanya and Bandhavgargh, you can request to be joined by a local naturalist if you want to learn more about the wildlife on offer. Wilderness camps on the outskirts of the reserve are the best accommodation options. Many boast incredible views on the forest while not sacrificing on comfort or practicality.
Want to seek out these elusive big cats for yourself? The best time to see tigers in India is from February to June, although from April temperatures soar to a scorching 40 degrees, so bear that in mind when planning your trip. Check out our In Search Of Tigers itinerary or send an enquiry to our local experts for more information. They are ready and waiting to help you plan your tailor-made wildlife trip of a lifetime. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office, please call +44 (0) 117 325 7898