The first of the national parks of India was established in 1936 in the valley of the Rudraganga river, in what is today Uttarakhand state. Renamed Corbett National Park soon after Independence, after the famous shikari and conservationist Jim Corbett, it became the first site for Project Tiger in 1973. With a current population of more than 450 tigers, it is considered to be the most successful wildlife conservation project in the world. The project’s balancing act between reserving a core area for wildlife completely free of human activity and recognizing the rights of people who have traditionally lived there has become the de facto core of global conservation efforts. In this region, the great success of Project Tiger has led to more ambitious plans.
Core areas of this and other national parks are completely free of human activity, and eco-tourism in buffer zones between human-inhabited and core wildlife areas provide a new source of income for people who live in the vicinity of these reserves. Now a network of parks in the Terai region of the Himalayas is an interconnected biosphere reserve with wildlife corridors connecting parks in three countries (Bhutan, India, and Nepal). This is one way to hedge conservation bets against the coming climate catastrophe, as species move up in altitude. Three bellwether species have sprung back in this huge biosphere: the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), the Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus), and the Indian one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis). Corbett only has the first two, but we had enormous number of sightings of both in the few days that we spent there this week.