The New York Times has a piece entitled “Save the Tiger, Ban the Tourists.” In what’s sure to be a battle within and outside the tourism industry, the Indian government has banned tourists from many of the country’s most popular tiger parks.
It’s a tough decision. Tourism can raise awareness, not to mention funds, on saving and protecting tigers. And it might stop some poaching. But the small number of tigers in India might be better off far away from humans, even well-intentioned ones. I had hoped to see a tiger myself in the Sariska Reserve, but wasn’t surprised that I never actually saw one of the elusive animals (especially given that only a few actually were in the park the time I went in 2009).
Here’s the full article by Heather Timmons:
India’s Supreme Court banned tourists from large swathes of the country’s popular tiger parks on Tuesday, citing states’ inability to protect the endangered animals.
Until further instructions from the court, “the core zones or core areas in the tiger reserves will not be used for tourism,” a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court ruled, according to the Press Trust of India. The ban goes into effect immediately.
The ruling could cost India’s tourist trade millions of dollars in income but might help preserve the dwindling number of big cats in India, supporters say. India is home to about half of the world’s tiger population, an estimated 1,700, down from 100,000 in the country at the turn of the last century.
Wildlife organizations estimate there are about 3,000 tigers left in the world, down from as many as 7,000 a decade ago.
The number of visitors to India’s more than three dozen tiger parks has skyrocketed in recent years as domestic tourism increased, bringing facilities like luxury lodges with swimming pools to the edges of parks, and tourist-friendly fare like jeep safaris and New Year’s Eve parties. No building is allowed in the core areas of the parks, and states have been instructed to create buffer zones around the parks to keep human noise and traffic away from animals.
A 2010 tiger census conducted by the World Wildlife Fund in India showed an increase in the overall tiger population from 2007, but the organization also found an “an alarming decline in tiger occupancy from 36,139 to 28,108 square miles outside of protected areas” and an “increase in human-tiger conflict around tiger reserves.”
Some wildlife experts in India have previously called proposals to ban tourism in the parks “a disaster,” saying that wildlife tourism helps to protects tigers from poachers.
Not surprisingly, tour operator groups are also against any ban. “Well managed tourism can have a positive impact on tiger populations,” the group Tour Operators for Tigers said last year. “Many areas in tiger reserves which are open to tourists display the best tiger concentrations including breeding tigresses, and there are instances of tiger presence having reduced in areas after they have been closed for tourism,” the group said.
This year, the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka banned scientists who had studied animals there for years. Officials said they were removing humans from the park to give the tigers more space.