In just a couple of days, on August 29th, the Indian Supreme Court will make a decision on whether or not to extend its temporary ban on tourism in core areas of the nation’s tiger reserves.
The reasons behind the ban are rather complex and involve the creation of buffer zones that many of the states failed to do, or even provide plans for doing so, as mandated by law.
The Supreme Court judges even asked the Indian government’s attorney what they are doing to save tigers, and chastised the government for lacking effective tiger protection measures. “What have you done for tiger project…?”, the judges wondered.
Much is at stake, with the tourism and related industries pushing hard to end the ban.
It seems that one viable approach might be to allow some of the most accessible parks to be open to tourism, as before, and leave the ban in place in a majority of the tiger reserves. Leave open Rathambore and Corbett National Parks, for example, and a few in mid and southern India. There are 42 tiger reserves in India, more than anywhere else in the world. It could be worth a try leaving some closed and some open to tourists.
There are many people dependent upon the tourism industry for their livelihoods. And, according to Belinda Wright, a tiger expert and executive director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India, the presence of tourist vehicles also deters poachers. “The number of local people who depend on wildlife tourism is huge,” she said.
Yet K. Ullas Karanth, with the Wildlife Conservation Society, recently wrote that “The arguments that the tourism industry’s watchful eyes are necessary to protect wildlife and its ‘ban’ will lead to collapse of wildlife protection are also facetious.” He also made a crucial distinction between budget tourism and high-end tourism, and how the tendency toward “boutique tourism” can undermine long-term public support for wildlife conservation in India more than the court’s suspension of tourism in a few high-profile tiger reserves.
If there aren’t any wild tigers left in the reserves, that part of the tourist industry is going to eventually collapse anyway.
Others have suggested looking at the South African and Kenyan models of tourism, and how these two countries have used well-managed tourism programs and higher fees to fund conservation initiatives, local economic growth, and to fight poaching.
While seeing a wild tiger must be an amazing experience, the safety and survival of tigers should be the priority. Poaching patrols need to be vastly increased, as well as education of those who buy tiger parts (mainly from China). Some people and organizations have also claimed that the government has done a very poor and ineffective job saving tigers. Given the dire situation, this is probably true in many cases.
India and the world are running out of time to protect the Bengal Tiger. It is estimated that only 3,700 tigers exist in the world today. All efforts should be made to protect them.