On the same day that India’s Supreme Court lifted its ban on tourism in the core areas of the country’s tiger reserves, the Indian government committed $50 million toward conservation efforts during the Convention on Biological Diversity summit.
Regarding tigers, tourism will now be permitted in 20 percent of the core areas of India’s 41 tiger sanctuaries. The Court asked state governments to draw up conservation plans that follow the guidelines prepared by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
Under the new rules, no new tourism infrastructure would be created and all permanent structures would be gradually removed from the core tiger habitat.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority has also just proposed the creation of six new tiger reserves. Which would range from Uttar Pradesh to Goa to Tamil Nadu.
As for the $50 million pledge towards biodiversity efforts by Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, it will be invested both domestically and shared with other developing nations that are struggling to cover the costs of protecting their own biodiversity. It is also hoped that this will spur similar commitments from rich countries like the U.S.
For now, it seems like things are proceeding in the right direction for tigers. But the pressure on tigers and other species are enormous.
Below is an excerpt from an op-ed in The Hindu newspaper by Tarsh Thekaekara, who is a biodiversity conservation researcher in India. I think it succinctly captures the challenges facing India, and until the country comes to terms with its development priorities, the future may not look so bright for animals, or villagers:
India is home to three of the world “biodiversity hotspots,” the Western Ghats-Sri Lanka region, the Himalayas and the Indo-Burma region. The Western Ghats are currently being ripped apart by large-scale legal and illegal mining, large development projects and even private hills stations like Lavasa. The hills have recently witnessed a very comprehensive conservation prioritisation and planning exercise by the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP), which suggests an intelligent and democratic zonation plan with varying levels of exploitation. But most politicians object to the recommendations of the panel, arguably driven by kickbacks from the extractive industries or a short-sighted approach to “development.” Vast tracts of the Indo-Burma hotspot will be submerged by a series of dams, supposedly to cater to India’s ever expanding power needs.
…India’s two main flagship programmes ― “Project Elephant” and “Project Tiger,” have been in place for a few decades now. Though their success is debated, they have been doing a reasonably good job of protecting these two species. But India Inc is now catching up with our charismatic beasts. Central India, globally recognised as one of India’s best metapopulation of tigers, is being carved up for coal mining. A proposal for an Elephant reserve in Chhattisgarh never saw the light of day since there is coal under the elephant forests. India’s Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) and the Minister of Environment and Forest (MoEF) have been fighting desperately to stop the indiscriminate industrial expansion into India’s natural forests. But both the FAC and MoEF were chastised for “slowing down India’s galloping economy.”
Thekaekara ends by saying that in terms of biodiversity loss (what he refers to here as an underlying driver), “The question now is whether India is going to honestly identify what this underlying driver is and make a serious effort to balance the development versus nature battle.”
He seems hopeful that the government is indeed making serious efforts at this. Of course, time will tell if this is true. The fate of tigers, other species, and a way of life for many people are at stake.