by Kevin Krajick
Featuring research by Amrita Neelakantan, Columbia University
It is the black before dawn at the gate to the Kanha Tiger Reserve, in the highlands of central India. The still air carries a dank, penetrating chill. But it is hardly quiet. A buzzing line of tourists is forming at the ticket booth, peddlers are pouring steaming cups of tea. Groups of green-uniformed rangers chat at the entrance. Across the street, dozens of drivers are forming up a military-type vehicle convoy, ready for the visitors to board for the daily sunrise invasion of drive-through safaris.
It was Kanha’s lushly forested hills and ravines that inspired Rudyard Kipling’s famous story collection The Jungle Book, and it is a must-do tourist stop. Unlike much of rapidly developing India, it abounds in wildlife; it is home not only to Bengal tigers, but leopards, sloth bears, unique deer species and other rare and endangered creatures. The 360-square-mile park used to be home also to at least 1,500 extended families, but not anymore. The government started moving them out in the 1970s, and nudged out the last stragglers in 2015. This, theoretically, has been good for the fauna and flora. Whether it has been good for the people is a separate question.