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Tourism ban will not help the Big Cat

Ninad D Sheth
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Pay more and see the tiger.
Pay more and see the tiger.

The Supreme Court’s decision banning tourism in core areas of tiger habitats overlooks several critical considerations. It will harm, rather then help, the cause of tiger conservation.

For a start, it gives way too much power to the forest department. The ban will mean only one agency will both implement the tiger protection agenda, and audit that process.

The various forest and environment officials at the Centre and at the State level have a terrible record of tiger protection. They had held up the absurd number of 5,000 wild tigers in India till recently when it was already clear to every one (including the much maligned lodge owners) that there are only about 1,500 tigers left in India.

Tellingly, the two parks from where the tiger completely disappeared due to poaching were Panna and Sariska and both were not in the top ten most visited by tourists. In contrast, parks with the highest tiger density, such as Ranthambhore and Corbett, are amongst the most visited In India.

In both Panna and Sariska, the forest officers went to great lengths to deny that the parks were without a single big cat. The unscientific relocation in Sariska has been a double disaster. These are the very people who will run tiger parks across India, if the new order is implemented in its current form.

Tourism isn’t the villain

Tourism allows for ample outside scrutiny of the forest and thus aids tiger preservation. Tourism brings in its wake assessment by lodge owners, guides, photographers and other stake-holders whose survival depends on robust tiger numbers.

Breeding of tigers has been observed with regularity by experts even when the tourism season is in full swing. What is more, no tiger deaths due to tourism have been reported. Forest officer vehicles have, however, caused at least three tiger deaths in national parks of Madhya Pradesh in the recent past.

Poaching for skin and bones and poisoning by nearby villagers remain the two main causes of tiger deaths in India. Incidentally a majority of the poaching incidents, including the latest one in Corbett last fortnight, have happened during the monsoon, when Parks are closed to the tourists.

The Minister of Environment and Forests has proposed dismantling of tourism infrastructure in and near parks within a five-year framework.

Instead, this is the time for the tourism industry as well as the MoEF to draw up a regulatory framework. And hotels that violate norms need to go.

Price it for rarity

At the same time, India needs to understand that the tiger is the rarest of the rare, and access to it should be priced accordingly. The African model offers some lessons. A one-week visit to the Masai Mara, Kenya, during the great migrations costs $3,000 while a week in Ranthambhore or Corbett costs a measly $400 - and the Masai Mara is far cheaper than reserves in places such as Okavango in Botswana.

Raising access fee to national park core area will not only regulate tourist numbers but also provide for far greater revenues for the upkeep of parks and sharing with the local population. This is the one measure that will achieve the desired ends and is also easy to implement on the ground.

To deny future generations that heart-stopping moment - when one sights a tiger in the wild - is no solution. The State’s job is to facilitate this majestic experience through a regulatory approach.

Each park in India has unique issues and will need different solutions. A thought-out policy framework - not an “off with the tourist's head” diktat - is the way forward.

(The author is a senior journalist blfeedback@thehindu.co.in)

(This article was published on July 26, 2012)
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Comments:

if senior journalist are serious about what they have to say they could have impressed the honourable supreme court then itself.

from:  manohar
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 07:48 IST

"A one-week visit to the Masai Mara, Kenya, during the great migrations costs $3,000 while a week in Ranthambhore or Corbett costs a measly $400" - In other words, Mr. Sheth wants only wealthy to have the privilege to see the tigers - mostly western tourists, the type that stay at Taj resorts. We, the unwashed Indians, are bit too much for the tigers to bear. Fantastic idea!

from:  Krishna Reddy
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 12:17 IST

Perhaps its better to say that tourism is not the only villain, or that
a certain type of tourist establishments are the villains. Its the
sweeping statements that always cause problems. The author here is doing
the same.

from:  Gaurav Misra
Posted on: Jul 27, 2012 at 21:09 IST

I agree to you Ninad, Banning the tourism is absolutely no solution at all. Think of
the local people who are associated with tiger reserves for their bread and butter.
They will be out of their jobs & might end up doing the illegal things. Tourists work
as the eyes and ears of forests. Most of the tiger poaching happens during the
monsoon season when the tiger reserves are shut for tourists. When the national
parks would be shut for ever, i wonder what will be the fate of our tigers. They could
have removed the temples from the core area, they could have removed the railway
tracks out of the national parks which kills several wild animals including elephants
every year, they could have removed national highways out of the national park, they
could have tightened the security of tiger reserves but no they think straight away
banning tourism will give a rise to the tiger population.

from:  Varun Chopra
Posted on: Jul 28, 2012 at 12:55 IST

Tourists don't kill Tigers! In fact it is the opposite, due to tourism the locals are
economically benefitted, they get various opportunities of livelihood, Tigers are
helping them in their livelihood the locals therefor have a genuine concern for their
existence as it will affect them too. Hence they are more protective to the dwindling
number of tigers in India. They have a stake in increasing the number of tigers, so
that they attract more tourists to benefit the economic conditions of the people
living in the buffer area. Banning tourists will be detrimental for the tiger population
the very same people who are protective will resort to poaching for their livelihood.
One way to increase the population of Tigers would be by better monitoring &
regulation. The capacity of Forest Guards must be enhanced and the help of locals
must also be taken. Promoting Tourism will create awareness about the plight of
Tigers in India,it will make people realize the fact that there aren't many left.

from:  PARTHO
Posted on: Jul 30, 2012 at 14:35 IST

The viability of a tiger population at a given location depends on two things: the capacity of the habitat less withdrawals unnatural (deaths by poaching and killing by angry villagers) and it has nothing to do with the ordinary tourist. The only point to be absolutely control, is that tourism infrastructure is not destructive for the habitat of the tiger. (There is probably a major effort to control here)


In summary to protect the tiger, it is necessary laws and means to:
Stop poaching and destruction by human / tiger conflict
Adequate space to maintain viable populations of tigers (reserves and corridors of communication between those reserves)
The tourist is for the tiger like the fly that runs on top of his head, ie, not so much

from:  GUIOT Claudy
Posted on: Jul 31, 2012 at 18:42 IST

We love to do safari all over the world and I think the tiger is most magnificent animal. If you want to ask African prices, we are willing to pay BUT than we want as African skilled rangers and not one or other corrupt guy that just don' care. Your guides don't even stop for snakes, owls, gaur, ....cause it is "just no tiger". Sorry, but I do not see gaur in Belgian streets.....
Once we saw fresh marks and your compulsary guide just start blowing his whistle?? It is not tourism that is killing the tiger. I'm sorry to say, it is your corruption and incompetent people that allow people to poach the tiger. I can go on for hours, bur I think I made my point. If you ban tourist, no tiger will survive, despite the efforts of some honest and brave Indian people, fighting for "just" tiger!

from:  Karin Meeussen Belgium
Posted on: Aug 1, 2012 at 00:24 IST
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