Last week, in an effort to protect tigers, the Supreme Court of India passed a ban on tourists and commercial activities in “core” areas of the country’s tiger reserves.
Reasons for Restricting Access – tourists disturb tigers, restrict tiger movements, tourist activities are often unchecked, can be noisy, crowd the animals in jeeps when there is a sighting, leave litter behind
Reasons for Not Restricting Access – tourists help keep park activities in check and make it harder for poachers, there have been no reported tiger deaths due to tourism, a majority of poaching incidents have occurred during monsoon season when parks are closed to tourists
A recent Wall Street Journal blog noted that the order could effectively kill tourism in some of India’ major parks, yet others will barely be affected by it. Specifically, Ranthambore National Park, one of the most well-known parks and which has 31 tigers, would see tourism come to a standstill. Yet Jim Corbett National Park in northern India, which is much bigger and has a core area already mostly off-limit to tourists, won’t see much affect from the ban. This park has 227 tigers.
Perhaps some of the parks that will be most impacted by the ruling could learn something from how Corbett National Park is managed. Or maybe a few of the 40 existing tiger reserves could be exempted from the ban on the grounds that it would not only severely restrict tourism but also affect livelihoods.
I see both sides of the argument, but I think the ban is needed and worth trying. I’m certainly not an expert on tigers or conservation, but given that there are approximately 1,700 wild tigers left in India and maybe only 3,000 total in the world, something needs to be done.
Something also worth exploring as a way to protect tigers is recognizing Rights of Nature in the Indian constitution. Simply put, this is the recognition that trees, oceans, animals, mountains have rights just as human beings have rights. Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.
There is precedence for this. Ecuador and Bolivia are the first two nations to have passed a Rights of Nature clause into their state constitutions, and there was a ruling in Ecuador that found in favor of nature. Others countries, such as the Maldives and Nepal, are exploring the concept.
I’m not sure if there have been any serious discussions in India, but I can’t think of a better country to pass legislation protecting nature. As exciting as it would be to see tigers in the wild, given their precarious state I think our first priority should be to let them be and have a chance to build up their numbers. This ban may help. Yet having a law supporting their right to exist would be even better.