[This story is part of a national reporting series in India titled 'Ranger Ranger' funded by my Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship. For more information log on to : http://mukha.co/ranger-ranger
A crescent moon lights up a rickety jeep as it swirls around a dark forest, the wind whistling tunes of a cursed queen and her kingdom. It is past midnight. Ghostly shambles of rock fortresses loom by, an icy presence veiling the only humans visible to a jackal’s eye.
Janeshwar Singh, a strappy young officer in uniform, looks up in the rearview mirror to address his entourage.
“The Bhangarh Fort lies in the boundary of Sariska Tiger Reserve,” he snickers. “You must know that it is said to be haunted.”
Singh, 34, is the ‘Ranger Saab’ in charge of the Ajabgarh range in Sariska (STR). Well nestled in the Aravalli hills, covering an area of about 1200 square kilometers that transforms from scrubland to deep valleys and dry deciduous forests, Sariska in Alwar, Rajasthan, is a haven for the big cat. But that has not always been the case.
Twelve years ago, poachers had wiped Sariska clean of tigers.
In 2004, 16-18 tigers were recorded on paper by the Rajasthan forest department. However, there were strong reports that not only were there no tigers to be seen but also there was no evidence of their presence such as pug marks, scat or scratches on trees.
In 2005, forest officials and the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) declared an "emergency tiger census" in Sariska and the Central Bureau of Investigation, India's intelligence agency, conducted a probe into what had turned into an international scandal. After a two-month investigation, they finally declared that Sariska did not have any tigers left. Several poaching cases were filed and Sansar Chand, considered India’s deadliest tiger trafficker, was tailed and arrested in New Delhi.
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