Saturday, October 9, 2010

Wildlife Tourism - Changing Paradigm

The Central Indian tiger reserves are the most popular wildlife safari destinations in India. Incidentally they have become the hub of tiger tourism. This has opened up an industry that is unique and unparalleled in Madhya Pradesh. People from all walks of life in the vicinity and far are being benefited due to influx of large number of tourists for tiger safaris.

Tourism though a big money earner has its own burden to carry forth. But whence the heritage is in perfect state of preservation and tourism is responsible, the benefits far outweigh the negative. Nevertheless the status of the tiger and wildlife in general in India is precariously threatened. Hence it is imperative to keep pressure of tiger tourism at lowest level - which is already being done in the tiger reserves as a gradual process.

For some the onus of animals being endangered and ecosystems being ravaged lies on eco tourism. This is a gross misconception bordering on ignorance and perhaps prejudice. The proponent of such notions need to redefine such notions taking into account a wider perspective. The impelling disaster is due to extensive deforestation, man animal conflict and organized poaching. Much needs to be done as regards these factors. In breeding and disease are the next big one's.

I have been visiting Kanha and Bandhavgarh since seventies whence tiger tourism was ready to take off. Subsequently the number of tourists swelled four fold and so did the wild animals. In this period the ecosystems peaked with conservative measure in action.

The tiger made a come back in the parks, though persecution continued in non protected areas outside. The administration had a double task of managing wildlife, burgeoning tourists numbers and accommodations. This was well done, the regulations in place did a fine job of containing tourism in the core zones.

The recent changes in Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench are suggestive of this ongoing process of managing tourism. But the paranoia that exists vis a vis tiger status sometimes leads to ad hoc polices perhaps with out consultation with the industry.

More Info: Tiger Conservation Group Kanha

In my personal opinion tiger tourism has played a crucial role in education and creating awareness of our wonderful wild heritage. This has propelled conservation in India and augured a new value system for wilderness. Old hunting records suggest that wild animals were treated as pariahs especially the carnivores. This is one of the prime reason for extermination of tigers, leopards, wild dogs, hyena, wolf and so forth in many parts of India.

This drastic perception has been removed amongst a large set of people who have visited these ecosystems. They have certainly voiced their opinions elsewhere. Visitation is a close encounter of the first kind...and the voice has gone far. Even those who have never been to tiger reserves have changed their outlook to positive.

A more conciliatory approach is required as far a wildlife tourism in India is concerned. Wildlife safaris are a non destructive way of appreciating nature at close. The age old concept of wildlife as an elite indulgence has to be done away with. The increasing cost of tiger tourism will have a limiting effect on benefits that accrue. There should be special packages for school groups, NGOs and the underprivileged such that message spreads far and wide.

Eco tourism encourages empowerment of local communities, is profit sharing, educative and entertaining as well. Why not?

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