From Bangalore I headed back to the North to tour take a tour with Steve’s friend Rachel. The first stop on our tour was Ranthambore, one of India’s finest tiger reserves. The park used to be the hunting ground of a maharaja. Now Ranthambore houses 40 of India’s 1411 wild tigers. My guide book said that this was one of the best places to spot tigers in India. It was not our luck to see a tiger, but we did see a lot of tiger food: deer, nilgai or blue bull, chinkara or Indian gazelle, and the tiger’s favorite food, the sambar deer. Half a kilometer from a ranger station we viewed the well cleaned carcass of a sambal deer, evidence of a well fed tiger. We also saw the ubiquitous monkeys and peacocks of India’s wild areas, a giant crocodile, and several species of birds.
I was surprised to find that Ranthambore has been successful at preserving tiger habitat because of cows and their manure. The Prakralik Foundation, founded by Dr. Goverdhan Singh Rathore, an organization devoted to preventing the deforestation of tiger habitat, introduced biogas digesters fueled by cow dung to alleviate the need for villagers to take firewood from the forest. Bio-gas (or Gobar) digesters capture methane gas produced by decomposing cow manure and kitchen scraps. The gas is collected and used as cooking fuel. The compost made from the manure slurry is then put back on the fields. This program has preserved the forest and increased crop yields in the area up to 25%.
It is fortunate that Rajasthan, a dairy producing state, is well populated with cattle. This program would not work as well in other areas of India where villagers keep only enough water buffalo for their own personal milk and dried dung cooking fuel use. In these places cow manure costs more than chemical fertilizers. The fact that this program has protected the habitat is evident from the extreme contrast of the desertified landscape just outside the park boundaries. While the program has been successful at preserving the park’s tress, it has not entirely solved all the parks problems. Five years ago, the park lost six tigers to poaching by park rangers.