Traveling the Ranthambhore-Kuno Wildlife Corridor


Harshad Sambamurthy

Ranthambhore has long served as the stock backdrop for the perfect tiger picture. As the erstwhile hunting grounds of the Maharajas of Jaipur, derelict lookout posts still remain; adding a novel, and deservedly royal touch to the tiger’s home. Culturally diverse, and rich in oral stories spun from the most attractive yarn; Ranthambhore has fast become synonymous with tiger tourism.

My fascination with Ranthambhore began in 2007 while volunteering remotely to help raise funds for the NGO Tiger Watch. This attraction gradually gathered pace after picking up my first book by the revered tiger conservationist Valmik Thapar, and the subsequent urge to visit the forest surged ferociously, but due to the inaccessibility of being based elsewhere; was suppressed; resigned to remain dormant, patiently awaiting to pounce upon the opportunity which eventually presented itself fourteen years later.

Arriving in Sawai Madhopur—the nearest town to Ranthambhore—the tiger’s face is plastered across every imaginable space of wall, and the surfeit number of gypsy jeeps and canter trucks demonstrates the pull of the tiger. The frequency of these images however, are in distinct contradiction to the reality of spotting the actual animal. While there, I visited the park, but the forests stood eerily quiet. Apart from a bulky sambar stag foraging in a distant clump of bush, it was difficult to accept that other animals existed in the reserve. Returning from the afternoon’s excursions, vexed at my tiger-less outing; it was mildly comforting to hear that other tourists were equally luckless. Some scowled with displeasure, while others bore their confoundment plainly; lamenting their fate.

A lonely sambar in a quiet Ranthambhore forest

Despite my ill-luck, the forests are home to large carnivores like tigers, leopards and bears; smaller predators like the caracal, desert cat, and prey like sambar, chital (spotted deer), chinkara (Indian gazelle) and wild boar. Yet, perhaps catalysed by burgeoning tourist pressures, the larger Ranthambhore landscape is rapidly changing. The unsustainable usage of non-timber forest products; illegal sand, gravel and stone mining; the construction of linear infrastructure; and the spread of invasive weeds like Prosopis Juliflora are dramatically remoulding the landscape’s entire appearance. Prosopis was introduced in the 1980s; aimed at providing firewood to communities in the Chambal region. Planted along with other species in the name of restoration and to disrupt the movement of bandits, was discontinued in 1995, but having taken root, its spread has been ubiquitously devastating.

The tigers here; genetically distinct and suited for the harsh climate are predominantly concentrated in and around Ranthambhore National Park and Tiger Reserve. Tigers require large home ranges however, and often disperse through wildlife corridors. These corridors are essentially routes that promote the movement or migration of animals between connecting habitat patches; often used to expand home ranges and support genetic exchange. Maintaining these crucial dispersal pathways— that are swiftly succumbing to agricultural pressures and being squeezed into tinier slivers—is imperative for landscape-level conservation projects. Ranthambhore’s tigers prefer to move, and do so in three different directions. Their movement Eastward through the Ranthambhore-Kuno Corridor (RKC)—perhaps more vital because it connects them with other tigers in Madhya Pradesh—was what piqued my interest. Leaving Sawai Madhopur, our four-person WWF India team traveled towards Sheopur, in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, and onwards to Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary. En route, we crossed the glorious Chambal; its ripples glimmering in the noon shine; then alongside deep, jagged and precipitous ravines that keep hidden a panoply of creatures; and thereafter, the mesmerising greenery of the Sheopur forest division—where we spotted a flock of vultures feeding on the innards of a buffalo corpse—on a near perfect linear stretch of asphalt.

The Chambal River

Our colleague Sonu was wearing a Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary shirt which had the illustrated face of a lion as the emblem. I was rather perplexed, for I thought the Asiatic lion was only found, isolated, in Gir National Park, Gujarat. The late Maharaja of Gwalior believed that lions once roamed over the territory of his state and was determined to reintroduce them; importing three pairs of African lions for an “experiment” in the Sheopur-Shivpuri forest division (Singh, 1959). With the lions initially kept in an enclosure, they were gradually released. One such lion was found dead in an open expanse, badly mauled, with the incisive precision characteristic of a tiger. Col. Kesri Singh—the former in-charge of the Shikarkhana (hunting department) for Jaipur and Gwalior—contended that tigers are the stronger animal. When he organised private shows that pitted a lion against a tiger, the lion would first strike, and instigating the tiger’s wrath, swift swooshes of the tiger’s forepaws made the lion retreat. With the tiger unwilling to pursue, the bizarre spectacle abruptly concluded. As tigers are known for their infamous intolerance of foreign incursions into their territory; Singh maintained—and this is unverified—that the tiger was responsible for the near extermination of the lion in India; killing it wherever it encountered the other big cat. The lions, he believed, were eventually forced to seek refuge in Gir, which is separated by more than 150 kilometres of difficult terrain from the tiger’s nearest stronghold (Singh, 1959). A local sarpanch (an elected decisionmaker), in the village of Ghugus Gaon; just outside of Birpur, Madhya Pradesh told us that tigers perhaps existed in Kuno in the 1960s. Clad in a loose white banian and punctured dhoti, he explained in a low drawl, in between sips of milky tea, that tigers still move through the RKC; utilising the cover and extensive labyrinths of the deep ravines as a passageway. With a grimace of concern, he bemoaned the mounting development pressures, warning that the number of tigers using this corridor are likely to reduce.

Just as lions might have sought sanctuary in Gir, away from the territorial terror of the tiger, wildlife are now contained—so to speak—in present-day sanctuaries, national parks and protected areas; that are fast becoming green blotches in the larger canvas of development. These scattered patches of connecting forest that serve as habitats in a rapidly-changing mosaic are now those same corridors that require maintenance and preservation. Wildlife corridors provide important dispersal pathways for animals, and serve as an ecologically-sensitive buffer region at the edge of a protected habitat. With human habitations extending near to—or sometimes inside—forested-areas, the possibility—and concomitant probability—of human-wildlife interactions increasing can have detrimental consequences. Corridors can help cushion and absorb the impact of such interactions; especially if they were to become negative. The corridor—like a string that connects the various natural pearls it holds—is part of a larger concatenation; linking the animals it allows to freely move with the communities and livelihoods they rely upon. In India, where sharing spaces with wild animals is as natural as the changing of seasons, the continued preservation of wildlife corridors—like the RKC—can ensure secure mobility of migrating fauna and the promotion of genetic exchange, while concurrently granting humans the space to safely negotiate these areas; giving voice to the language of co-existence.

Amidst a labyrinth of ravines that serve as cover and passageway for tigers. Ravines are classified as ‘wastelands’


  1. Khandal, D., Khandal D, and Sahu, Y.K. (2014) “The Marco Polos of Ranthambhore” Save Us Magazine.
  2. Ranganathan, P. (2017) “The Effects of Land Use Change on Carnivore Use of Wildlife Dispersal Routes in Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, India” ATREE.
  3. Shah S., Nayak S., Gurjar R. and Borah J. (2015) “Beyond the Realms of Ranthambhore: The Last Abode for Arid Zone Tigers. Status report of tiger and its prey in the Western India Tiger Landscape” WWF India.
  4. Singh, K. (1959) “One Man and a Thousand Tigers” Dodd, Mead & Company.
  5. Singh, P., Reddy, G.V. (2016) “Lost Tigers Plundered Forests: A Report Tracing the Decline of the Tiger Across the State of Rajasthan (1900 to present)” WWF-India.