Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tiger Tourism

The conservation of Bengal tiger is in chaos in India. With the apparent failure of Project Tiger, NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) has been setup. NTCA is in all a twisted form of the earlier project with involvement of some NGOs, headed unfortunately by one with no background in wildlife management.

As a result skewered policies are bound to emerge. Instead of finding ways and means of saving tigers from poaching and revitalizing the forest management, the committee has forsaken all its load on tourism it seems. There is a proposal in offing of banning tourism in the core area of the parks or at some places completely closing tourism????

If this is true it further exposes the incapacity of the NTCA to find answer to stop the rapid decline of the tiger in India. The animal is on the last leg of its journey to India and may become extinct sooner then we expect. The assumption is bolstered by the fact that tigers have been poached easily and completely at reserves like Panna and Sariska - bastions of tiger conservation.

Tourism is positive aspect of tiger conservation. For all those who think it to be a menace and think it should banned in core are some points to consider.

1) Tigers have the highest breeding and cub survival rates in core areas with tourist movements. (Meaning adverse effect is negligible & tourism thwarts poachers.)

2) Prey base is the highest in core areas.

3) Acclimatization to humans is limited and harmless as tigers in periphery come in regular contacts with humans too. Anyway since tigers of all areas where poached in Sariska and Panna this holds litle weight.

4) Tourist act as watch dog, without tourism there would still be tigers reported in two failed reserves albeit on papers.

5) Tiger reserves with no/little tourism have suspected tiger statistics - Sanjay National Park in Siddhi.

6) Responsible tourism benefits local communities. Any policy changes unfavorable to responsible tourism will result in drop in tourism and hence affect livelihood of the endemic tribal and others.

7) Poachers will have a field day in absence of tourists which will also limit movement of staff in these areas for sure.

The best is to limit vehicle entry and diverge routes in the park as has been done in Central Indian Reserves like Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh in India. All the hotels in National Parks wildlife lodges should follow responsible tourism guide lines.

Wildlife tourism is a by product of nature conservation everywhere. Africa is the prime example, whereas wildlife tourism is economic mainstay of some countries. All developed nations have centers of conservation with regular tourist movements.

The policy reflects total bias and incoherence due to complete lack of understanding. The real problem is that poachers sneak in and kill tigers with impunity. The system is unable to protect the wildlife there in. Although the problems are quite complexe taking into consideration the size of our forests and complexities in the surroundings. Nevertheless highly focused and bold approach is the order of the day. Along with all irregularities vis a vis the systems in place should be paid heed to.

Instead of closed door elite conferences a direct hard hitting approach is required so that poachers and mafia involved in this heinous trade are brought to the book. The poachers in India are at rampage due to leverage given by law authorities, policy makers and lack of intelligence gathering.