The origin of the name "Tadoba" lies with the name of the God "Tadoba" or "Taru", worshipped by the tribes who live in the dense forests of the Tadoba and Andhari region. While "Andhari" refers to the Andhari River that meanders through the forest.
Legend holds that Taru was a village chief who got killed in a mythological encounter with a tiger. Taru deified, and a shrine dedicated to Taru now exists beneath a large tree on the banks of Tadoba Lake. The Gond kings once ruled these forests in the vicinity of the Chimur hills. Hunting is banned since 1935. Two decades later, in 1955, 116.54 square KM of this forest area was declared a national park. Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary was created in the adjacent forests in 1986. In 1995, the park and the sanctuary got merged to establish the present tiger reserve.
Tadoba Reserve is a predominantly southern tropical dry deciduous forest with dense woodlands comprising about eighty-seven per cent of the protected area. Teak is the predominant tree species. Other deciduous trees found in this area include ain (crocodile bark), bija, dhauda, halad, salai, semal and tendu, beheda, hirda, karaya gum, mahuamadhuca (crepe myrtle), palas (flame-of-the-forest, Buteamonosperma) and Lanneacoromandelica (wodier tree).
Patches of grasses are spread all over the reserve. Bamboo thickets grow throughout in abundance. The climber khaj-kuili (velvet bean) found here is a medicinal plant used to treat Parkinson's disease. The leaves of bheria are used as insect repellent and bija is a medicinal gum. Beheda is an important medicine found here.
Aside from the keystone species, Tadoba Tiger Reserve is home to other mammals, including Indian leopards, sloth bears, gaur, nilgai, dhole, striped hyena, small Indian civet, jungle cats, sambar, barking deer, chital, chausingha and honey badger. Tadoba lake sustains the marsh crocodile, which was once common all over Maharashtra. Reptiles here include the endangered Indian python and the Common Indian monitor. Terrapins, Indian star tortoise, Indian cobra and Russel's viper also live in Tadoba. The lake contains a wide variety of water birds and raptors. Different 195 species of birds have been recorded, including three endangered species. The grey-headed fish eagle, the crested serpent eagle, and the changeable hawk-eagle are some of the raptors seen in the park.
A black panther was spotted in May 2018. As per the officials, it is a rare sight since black panthers normally live in evergreen forests and not in dry deciduous forests like Tadoba Tiger Reserve.