Best Places in the World to See Wild Tigers
Dream of Seeing Wild Tigers?
I love tigers. I don't think there is a more beautiful, more majestic sight on the planet than to see a wild tiger prowling its natural habitat. And I'm not alone! In 2004 in a poll conducted by Animal Planet, the tiger was voted the favorite animal in the world ahead of dogs, dolphins and elephants.
Unfortunately these magnificent creatures are critically endangered, and chances to see them are becoming increasingly rare. The greatest dangers they face are poaching and loss of habitat. While irresponsible tourism can add to the tiger's troubles, responsible and eco-friendly tiger tourism could actually save this beautiful species for future generations.
If like me you harbor the dream of seeing a tiger in the wild, then you will benefit from the research I have been doing into the best places to see wild tigers, and the tour operators with the most tiger-friendly practices. Anyone who cares about tigers will want to know that their 'tiger tourism' is helping to protect these beautiful wild cats, not putting them in further danger.
Tigers' Shrinking Habitat
Tigers were once found across Asia, from the Caucasus to Indonesia but today their range has been reduced to just 7% of what it used to be. One of the factors adding to the endangerment of tigers as a species is that their range has become fragmented - tigers survive only in isolated pockets in the wild now. This makes it harder for them to hunt and to interbreed.
Today tigers still survive in the wild in parts of India and the Himalaya region, in isolated areas of China and Russia and in parts of Indochina and Indonesia. Tigers are solitary animals for the most part, and keep away from humans in general. They are difficult to find, and what's more, you need to be careful because they are dangerous animals when fearful or hungry.
Tiger-Spotting in the National Parks of India
The National Parks of India are one of the most popular places for tourists to visit and get photos of tigers in a wild setting. India is the home of the magnificent Bengal Tiger and one of the best places to see tigers in the wild. There are various National Parks in India where it is possible to see tigers - though never guaranteed. Here some of the best options ...
Bandhavgarh National Park
Bandhavgarh probably offers the best opportunity to see a tiger in the wild, due to the high density of its tiger population. Most visitors have a tiger sighting within a day or two of touring the park on game drives . If you're really lucky you can even see a tigress with her cubs. The downside of this is that the high level of sightings is attractive to tourists - so you may not feel you are truly venturing off the beaten track.
Ranthambore Tiger Reserve
Ranthambore is home to less tigers than Bandhavgarh, but it is still an excellent park for seeing them in the wild. The park is dry deciduous woodland, with a network of streams and lakes. The lack of undergrowth in the park makes for great visibility when wildlife spotting. Ranthambore was one of the original nine parks involved in Project Tiger since 1973, and as such has a long history of tiger conservation.
Kanha National Park
This park inspired the famous Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. The backdrop is one of open grasslands and lush forests. Tiger sightings are not so common here but you should be rewarded with at least one sighting if you take three or four game drives. The park is also home to a wide diversity of animal and bird life, apart from tigers. Some of the other larger animal species found in the park are sloth bear, leopard, striped hyena, spotted dear, wild boar, jungle cat, jackal and a variety of monkeys. Kanha is also known for its stunning sunsets, best viewed from Bamni Dadar, or 'sunset point'.
Corbett National Park
Corbett is located along the banks of the Ramgana River, in the foothills of the Himalayas and is famous for its populations of tigers, leopards and elephants. Some travelers recount difficulties in seeing tigers here, while others have been luckier. Many travel to the park for its variety of bird and animal life, rather than to see only tigers.
The best time to visit the national parks of India, with the hope of seeing the Bengal tiger in its natural habitat, is from mid-November to June. It is summer in India then and a very hot time of the year. Temperatures can rise up to 46°C (115°F).
Other Places Tigers Live Wild
Bhutan was recently featured in a BBC documentary as the film-makers made the stunning discovery of tigers living wild high in the Himalayas. Unlike in most countries of Asia, tigers in Bhutan have not suffered the loss of their natural habitat to logging and deforestation, nor are they poached for Chinese medicine because the local people have a culture of living in harmony with their tiger neighbours. It is hoped that these tiger habitats can be included in a proposed tiger corridor which would protect tigers all across the Himalaya region.
Bhutan is an exceptional country where the Gross National Product is measured in happiness rather than in dollars. It is also a kingdom at pains to protect itself from the outside world, and this means that there are certain obstacles which visitors must overcome. Visitors have to pay a minimum of $200 a day, but this is an all-inclusive fee and the benefit of lack of tourism is that much of Bhutan's natural landscape is pristine.
Although Bhutan is a wonderful country to visit, it is probably best if you care about tigers not to try to see them there. Conservationists hope to turn the region into a tiger sanctuary and will most likely discourage 'tiger tourism'.
China is home to the Siberian tiger but these have become very rare in the wild. The best place to see these Chinese tigers is considered to be Harbin's Siberian Tiger Park which has received mixed reviews for its care of the animals. The tigers are kept in large enclosures rather than in the wild, making it essentially an outdoor zoo. While this does help to preserve the species, I wonder how happy the tigers in there feel.
Siberian or 'Amur' tigers can also be seen in Russia's far east. The current tiger population is approximately 350 in Primorye, Russia's Maritime Province so spotting these tigers is difficult. This region is also home to Amur Leopards which are also an endangered species. Eco-tourism in this area is not well-established so make sure to book with a reputable operator, and to avoid any behaviours which might be disturbing to tigers and their habitats.
The Sumatran tigers of Indonesia are the smallest of all breeds of tiger. They are also critically endangered with less than 400 left in the wild, it is estimated. These tigers are protected in 21 special conservation areas. My research could not reveal any tiger tours available in Indonesia at this time.
Rare video of Sumatran Tiger cubs
Rarest Tigers of All
Tigers with a bluish tinged fur have been reported in China's Fujian province and also in Korea. They have always been extremely rare and may now be extinct. The photo opposite is an artist's rendering of a tiger so rare it has never been photographed.
The Golden Tabby Tiger is another extremely rare genetic variation of the tiger. Only thirty exist in captivity and it is thought the last wild golden tigers were shot in India at the beginning of the twentieth century.
White tigers derive from a genetic mutation which is rare in the wild. However, they are a popular breed in zoos due to the elegance of these tigers which draws in the public. White tigers do not live as long as their orange counterparts and can have vision problems. The only white tigers observed in the wild have been Bengal tigers. Recent photos of wild white tigers have been taken at Bannerghatta National Park in Bangalore.
Tigers are a critically endangered species across the globe. Any tourism designed to let people enjoy these magnificent animals needs to be carried out sensitively, repecting both local cultures and the tiger's natural habitat.
Having said that, 'tiger tourism' can help to save tiger populations. The main tiger populations left in India, for example, are in the national parks. The biggest threat to these tigers is poaching where tigers are killed and their body-parts sold on the black market. Tiger tourism provides a stong economic incentive for poor communities to keep tigers alive and well-protected in their natural habitat.
The Travel Operators for Tigers schemeoffers a travel experience which is helping rather than harming tigers in India.
The World Wide Fund for Nature has a partner eco-travel company called Natural Habitat Adventures. They offer a range of nature-focussed tours including a 'tiger habitat' tour of India and a trekking expedition through the pristine natural landsacpe of Bhutan. These tours aren't cheap but you can be assured that they are aimed at conserving rather than exploiting nature.
Responsibletravel.com offer a wide range of tiger safaris and wildlife photography tours in India and Nepal. India seems to be their preferred destination, as it has the highest probablility of tiger sightings. Tours come at a variety of prices. Their ethos of responsible travel includes touring in small groups, respecting local culture and connecting visitors with the natural world.