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Posts Tagged ‘Bengal Tiger’

[Last month I spent a couple of weeks in India, there mainly for a Global Exchange rights of nature study tour.  I managed to squeeze in a safari trip to Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh just prior to the study tour.]

As an “outsider,” nothing really prepares you for the India experience.  I’ve now been to the sub-continent four times, and each time I have to relearn the pandemonium that is India.

Indiachaos

Agra

The sights – cows in the road, cars, motorcycles, bicycles, trucks, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, begging mothers, horse and cart, dogs, goats, pedestrians; I’m sure I’m leaving one or two things out.  The sounds – car horns, truck horns, rickshaw horns, firecrackers, dogs barking…did I mention the horns?

I spent my initial days (escaping the chaos that is Delhi) at a lodge outside Kanha National Park in central India, in hopes of seeing a wild tiger.  Getting there was one of my more brutal car ride experiences, and believe me, I’ve had my fair share.  I don’t know if it was the lack of sleep or lack of food that made this four hour trip from the Raipur airport to my lodge especially taxing, but the roads certainly left a lot to be desired.

Funny how you can look at a map and assume what looks like a major road would be paved and not full of potholes the size of boulders.  Silly me.  My driver was 25 years old and his age belied his driving experience.  He was top-notched.  How he missed hitting the hundreds of cows, and potholes, in the road is beyond me.  And not just cows, but goats, dogs, children, motorcyclists, trucks, buses, and other cars.  I will never complain about drivers in California again (okay, that’s probably not true, but I will do so with an asterisk for India).

When we finally got to the Chitvan Jungle Lodge, it was a little piece of heaven.  A small posse came out to greet me and gather my belongings which had scattered in the backseat of the car.  After I settled in to my gorgeous room, I had a lunch fit for a king – an Indian sampler platter of locally-farmed organic ingredients.  The pumpkin was particularly tasty.   Almost everything I ate while at the lodge was delicious.

tiger best shot

a lone male bengal tiger

The highlight of my trip, and certainly my year, was sighting a tiger while on jeep safari.   I only saw the one, out of a total of three safari excursions, but what an experience!  It was a very emotional moment.  I was of course thrilled to see a tiger, but mixed into that feeling was an overwhelming sadness that this species may be wiped off the Earth forever, possibly in my lifetime.  How someone can poach such a beautiful and majestic animal is beyond my comprehension.

Of course there were plenty of other animals to see, including monkeys, spotted deer (there are so many you become blasé about seeing them), barasingha (swamp deer), peacocks, hawk eagles, jungle fowl, and even a python.  It’s also a beautiful park, especially at sunrise and sunset.

barasingha

barasingha

It was rejuvenating to be at Kanha, after the polluted grey skies of Delhi.  (Ironically, there are billboards and signs all over about planting trees to keep Delhi green.  Right now it’s an uphill battle.)  My time there was all too short, but it was worth the journey.

My short visit also reinforced my deep belief that humans should do everything possible to protect wild tigers and increase their numbers. People and tigers must find a way to co-exist.  Humans are part of the web of life; we do not own it.  More to come on this.

Kanha National Park

Kanha National Park

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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.

Royal Bengal Tiger (photo credit: tanplal, http://www.flickr.com/photos/13070711@N03/)

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.

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