For the Eye of the Tiger

The Hon'ble Supreme Court of India recently banned all forms of tourism activities in the core areas of all tiger reserves. Though the ban is temporary, and the final decision will be taken on August 22, tour operators specialising in wildlife tourism have opposed the ban vehemently. Understandably so, commercial stakes are quite high. The novelty value of the Tiger has been appreciating over the years. Tiger tourism, with the support from various Wildlife Departments of  states, has created a niche for itself. There are over 27 tiger reserves in the country. These reserves, which are protected areas under various laws, play a monumental role in not only tiger conservation but also in protecting the ecology surrounding the tiger. Together with the tourists, the states and the tour operators have been raking in handsome revenues year on year. However, now with the ban in place, things are not looking up. Especially because, the core areas is supposed to be where the big cats are; spotting a tiger on your safari is total paisa vasool. Who cares about the Chital or the Hornbill yaar!

The operators have made defended their opposition by citing various reasons related to conservation of the tiger.  Such as "The highest densities of tigers are found in heavily visited parks such as Corbett, Kaziranga and Bhandhavgarh, tourists help keep the poachers away and bring about violations of the staff to the attention of the higher authorities, poachers do not enter areas with a heavy tourist population." The famous instance of Sariska Tiger reserve is being recalled, a few years ago, after tourists faced repeated failures in spotting tigers, red flags were raised and the NTCA and CBI conducted a probe only to declare that the reserve had indeed lost all the tigers. Authorities promptly blamed it on poaching, recently however, three tigers were re-introduced and it is expected that the number will increase.

So, keeping these points in view if the intention is to ban tourism is conservation then clearly, the ban will not help, correct? That indeed is a smaller version of the bigger picture. A one sided argument presented cleverly to mask the commercial interests of tourism industry that this ban will likely affect. Lets return to Sariska, reading between the lines, is enough to highlight the misrepresented connection between tourists and poaching. If the tourists reported that no sightings were taking place and the authorities later blamed poaching for the disappearance of the tigers, were the poachers masquerading as tourists then? How could the poachers manage their ill doings so smoothly without being detected by the ever alert tourists?


Secondly, the mere presence of human population in the core areas of the tiger reserves can be a disturbance to the ecology of the region. Wherever it may roam, the beast cannot escape the eyes and the clicks, the giggles and the exclamation and the annoying din most irresponsible tourists create while the hapless driver-cum-guide looks on. Tourists and tour operators go to any length to spot a tiger as its considered a greater bang for your buck. Instances of bribing to enter a restricted area for that one shot on Pappu's new DSLR is not common but definitely not unheard of.  Although stricter norms are in place as far as plastic usage, noise levels, restricted areas are concerned, construction of accommodation facilities around the reserves put a strain on the resources of that region.

A recent article in The Mint, highlighted this point effectively. Eco tourism lodges are not necessarily environment friendly and they could be flouting more than one rule by way of bad practices. Rather than seeing the animals in their natural habitat, tourists instead of adapting would like to adopt practices which spell convenience with a capital C. This creates an imbalance in the eco-system of the region. But then, the tourists have played a 'pivotal' role by being the eyes and ears of the wildlife departments and thus need to be allowed entry. This might be true to a certain extent but it is not a good enough reason. Poaching will continue unabated and cannot be stopped by tourism. It can only be eliminated by a determined approach by the Forest officials along with the locals who can be employed as forest guards/watchmen/spotters and thus benefit from the forests that lie in their own backyard. The duty of the forest departments of all the states is to protect and safeguard the flora and fauna that lies within their jurisdiction, that duty cannot be shared with tourists. Effective monitoring practices at all levels including international trade terminals, regular censuses, extensive use of technology and greater indigenous involvement will help tackle poaching.

The rules regarding setting up of establishments around ecologically sensitive areas must be streamlined to ensure that only eco-friendly practices are put in place during the course of construction and operation. The footfall of tourists at various parks must be regulated and a maximum limit should be prescribed after a careful impact assessment on each park. States that have not notified their buffer areas should do so without wasting any more time so the ban can be implemented quickly. The Wildlife of India is an invaluable wealth of the country and should not be exploited for commercial purposes under the garb of eco-tourism or conservation. It must be preserved. Responsible tourism combined with a wide spread awareness of the importance of the forests will help immensely. The ban might not be good news for folks who make a living out of wildlife tourism but it is a small price to pay for the welfare of our wildlife.

Photo Courtesy: Kavya Shetty, Pench National Park









Comments

i so completely agree with you... we cant rely on tourists to keep poachers away.... we need a better and more enduring system in place to keep our tigers safe...besides , as for tourism, the tiger is not the only interesting thing in those jungles. we can create more awareness about all the other flora and fauna that help keep the tiger alive and that can continue to rake in the tourists and continue to give the locals employment.. what is needed is awareness... and tiger tourism is certainly getting in the way... just hoping though that this actually works so maybe i will not get to see a tiger soon, but maybe by the time samhith grows up, the number of tigers would have increased enough to spot them in the non core areas too!
Rushikesh said…
Hey Anuradh, such an optimistic outlook is all we need to tide over this change! Wildlife tourism as a holistic meaning of the term can really be helpful :)

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