Welcome to the Year of the Tiger! Once every dozen years, the Lunar New Year celebrates the largest of all cats, one that Asian astrologers describe as uplifting, brave, and independent. All excellent qualities for the year ahead.
Over 1.5 billion people around the world celebrate Lunar New Year. Festivities continue in some cultures for about two weeks, but the influence of the Tiger lasts the year.
Year of the Tiger may inspire many of us to take a new interest in these magnificent striped creatures, even to see them in real life.
Responsible travel should be any big cat-lover’s top priority.
Many of us are very conflicted about zoos, where species survival and educational programs at excellent facilities is weighed against keeping wildlife in captivity and conditions at poor facilities.
Attractions with captive tigers are condemned by experts and conservationists.
Seeing tigers in the wild is a life-changing experience. Once, tiger species ranged widely across Asia. Tiger species with names like Siberian and Sumatran and Royal Bengal illustrate just how far tigers once roamed.
Just in the last century, tigers have lost 95% of their habitat, and experts estimate that fewer than 4000 tigers remain in the wild. Like many famous megafauna, it’s thought that responsible photo-safari tourism can help create an economic motive to help ensure the survival of these majestic creatures and their habitat.
Where to Travel:
Tiger reserves exist in a number of Asian destinations including Siberia, Russia, as well as Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
Today, about 70% of the world’s wild tigers live in India, which has dozens of tiger reserves. Travellers can book vetted, professional guided tours that both maximize their chances of seeing a tiger and protect these rare, magnificent creatures.
Central India’s Madhya Pradesh is known as the country’s ‘Tiger State.’ It is said to be the setting of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, and has some of the country’s most accessible and reputable reserves, often former private hunting reserves for local maharajas.
Kanha Tiger Reserve has famously picturesque dense forest as well as wide-open grasslands and lakes. The National Park is a protected, 750-square mile eco-system that’s home to apex predator tigers and also nurtures lots of other wildlife, including local deer, sloth bears, leopards and other species from monkeys to mongoose.
Pench Tiger Reserve is a National Park partially in Madhya Pradesh and is named for the river running through its hundreds of square miles. It’s famous for regular sightings of tiger mothers and their cubs. The most famous, Collarwali, nicknamed “the great mother,” gave birth to a remarkable 29 cubs in her long, 17-year life before she died of natural causes in January, 2022, the longest-living tigress in the park. Loving park wardens draped her remains with wreaths of flowers, prayers were said, and a traditional funeral pyre honored the passing of one of conservation’s great creatures.
Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan is the cradle of tiger tourism in India, and has been home to some of its most famous and beloved tigers. A robust population and great many lakeside and waterhole adjacent vantage points make this one of the best places in India to view tigers. The reserve also contains ancient Mughal fort ruins on the edge of a lake; seeing tigers against a backdrop like that reminds travellers how much these noble great cats are creatures of legend in their natural homelands.
When to Travel:
Tigers can be seen year round in India’s reserves. July through September is monsoon and breeding season, and most tiger reserves are closed. In the hot, pre-monsoon months of April and May, water-loving tigers spend lots of time around the waterholes with their cubs, which gives the best opportunities for sightings.