'I spend most of my time crisis-solving for the [Indian] National Board of Wildlife or the Central Empowered Committee, a five-member committee that was appointed by the Supreme Court of India in 2002 to advise it on the misuse of forest lands. When I'm on site, I'll stay in little forest rest-houses, which were constructed by the British before they left in 1947. You can find them every 10km or so. They're basic but they're in the heart of the parks. I get up at 6am and immediately hit the road in an open-air Jeep. Just before the sun comes up is the best time to sight tigers. It's the coolest time and it's when they're most active. You drive around searching for any signs of a tiger. You're like a detective searching for clues such as pugmarks [footprints] on the road. You must listen carefully. Every animal has an alarm call when it sees a tiger: a spotted deer will give a high shriek while a bigger deer gives a grunting noise, so you must learn to recognise those calls. I'll usually come back to the rest-house around 11am and have a late breakfast, an omelette and a piece of toast, or grab a sandwich and hit the road again. There is no plan scheduled but I try to pack as much into the day as possible. I may be looking for tigers or talking to the forest officers, trying to understand their problems: how much poaching is going on and any other offences. Because the Central Empowered Committee reports directly to the Supreme Court, it is extremely powerful and the work we've achieved so far has been very satisfying. I finally feel like I'm getting somewhere. In one of our recent cases, we found the local administration had given farmers the right to use the land in a lovely bird reserve for fish farming. Within three months of our recommendation to ban the fishing, the fish farms were closed and the reserve was restored to its original state. We've been given a court room at the Supreme Court in Delhi and I wear formal black dress. The Supreme Court refers cases to us to conduct hearings on and we then give a recommended judgment. So far 99.9 per cent of our recommendations have been accepted. We deal with cases related to forest lands so it includes everything: tigers, wildlife, fishing. Our job is to detect the problem, establish who has violated the law and bring it to the notice of the Supreme Court. I have spent most of my life living and breathing tigers but I've lost many illusions. A few years ago, I realised that my mission in my life - to save the tiger with a group of like-minded people - had failed. The tiger, as I've known it, is gone. We have maybe 1,200 tigers left - well below the government's official estimate of 3,000 - and we're losing them at the rate of 150 a year. We're losing them because the political will is absent, forests are being diverted for non-forest purposes and poachers are having a field day. I saw my first tiger when I was eight or nine. One of my uncles looked after the Corbett National Park [in Uttaranchal]. There was a line of elephants sweeping the high grass to flush out tigers into the open and I was on the top of one of them. I saw a tiger and its two cubs running away. I don't think it was the encounter that made me focus on tigers later in my life. I went back regularly to the park and encountered more tigers. I studied social anthropology at Delhi University and started making documentaries on culture and people in my early 20s. In those days, there was no television in India so they were shown before feature films in cinemas. After three years of documentary making, I tried to move towards filming tigers but it was difficult to locate them. Back in the 1970s, most national parks had villages inside [them] and tigers would keep away during the day. They would become active only at night when the people were asleep. That's one of the reasons why tigers used to be nocturnal in India. Interestingly, within four years of the villagers of Ranthambore [National Park] being relocated, an incredible thing happened - tigers started to roam about in the day and we were able to learn new things about them. I was one of the first to record, through photographs, the role of the father. There were a lot of misconceptions about the male tiger being a threat to cubs, killing them to get the female into a reproductive cycle. But I found male tigers looking after the cubs and showed they played an important role in the family unit. I had problems marketing those early tiger films, so I turned to writing the story of tigers. I've done 14 books and I'm just completing one for young readers. By the early 90s, I was looking at the ugly side of conservation. We had loads of people poaching tigers - still have - and I was fighting with my government. The BBC approached me in 1996 to front a six-part series, Land of the Tiger. I was reluctant at first but I realised it would give me lots of exposure and greater clout with local politicians, so I accepted. It took one-and-a-half years of my life, working with 24 camera teams. My life has not just been focused on the natural history of the tiger. I've also studied the culture of the tiger, the impact of the tiger symbol, how communities in Malaysia and Indonesia worship the tiger. Chinese people, particularly from Tibet, are responsible for the huge poaching problem. We have footage to show that a lot of tiger skins become ceremonial dresses for Tibetan horse dances. Indian tiger bones also go into Chinese medicine and there is a huge amount of smuggling happening. In 1988, I founded the Ranthambore Foundation to find ways for humans and tigers to coexist. I worked very hard, doing hundreds of integrated-income activities such as income generation through crafts and agro forestry, but it didn't work. I failed. Humans didn't want to harmonise and any money they made went to their personal use. The forest kept being cut [down] and poaching continued. At the end of the 90s, I stopped these activities and the foundation now only publishes books and runs a nursery, where 100,000 trees are nurtured every year for planting. I'm tired of fighting the government [and] trying to relocate the villages outside the tigers' territories. I now believe the romantic notion that tigers and humans can coexist is rubbish. Six weeks ago, I was in my garden. I had an idea. Instead of relocating the villages, we should relocate the tigers before they get killed by humans - poisoned or trapped - especially in areas where there are only three to four left. We can find sanctuaries for them. But this is risky, because the tiger learns from his mother the details of what to do, of the waterholes, the park. If you take him into a new area, he's totally unsure. But we have no choice. We need to take the experiment on board or the animal will be relegated to hell. When I'm in Delhi, I enjoy having dinner with my wife and five-year-old son and watching a bit of television news or a wildlife film, or reading travel books. I also enjoy a good game of Scrabble but most nights are early ones because I'm so often on the road. If I'm in the forest I'll crash out after an early dinner because going out can be really exhausting.' Land of the Tiger (aka Wild India) screens on Animal Planet on Fridays, until May 11, at 8pm.