A century ago, there were some 45,000 tigers in India; in 2010, there were only 1,706 — a small but notable improvement over the 1,411 in 2008. How to best preserve the country’s national animal remains in dispute.
In July, India’s Supreme Court banned all tourism in the “core areas” of the country’s 41 tiger parks. The outcry has been huge with not only hotel operators of hotels and tours none too pleased with the means for their livelihood suddenly, and completely, cut off. Environmentalists and conservationists have also criticized the ban.
Ajay Dubey, who filed the petition to India’s Supreme Court, argues that tourism has adversely affected the tiger population. “The large number of vehicles loaded with people were traumatising the endangered species in the critical tiger habitat,” he tells the Guardian, arguing that he simply wants to see the 1972 Wildlife Protection Act enforced.
Under the law, tiger reserves are to include a core area that only forestry officials can enter; this is to be surrounded by buffer land that tourist jeeps can visit. Back in April, the Supreme Court ordered 13 states with tiger parks to file zoning plans but only three complied, “amid difficulties creating the buffers related to land acquisition, compensation for relocated villagers and local politics.”
Environmentalists: Tourism Protects Tigers
Belinda Wright, executive director of the New Dehli-based Wildlife Protection Society of India, says in the Guardian that a tourism ban is nothing less than “total disaster”: “There is no way the forestry department alone can protect tigers from poachers and local encroachment on the land.”
The Corbett Foundation, a wildlife protection organization in India, noted the same: “While in principle, we all agree that wildlife tourism in India needs to be controlled and strictly regulated, placing a complete ban on any kind of tourism activities in the core areas will certainly not help the wildlife of the tiger reserves.”
In contradiction to what Dubey says, the additional vehicle traffic ”provides more eyes and ears against poachers who slaughter wildlife for body parts, which command high prices in China for use in traditional medicine and aphrodisiacs,” also, says the Los Angeles Times.
Complications In Creating Buffer Zones
As the Guardian describes, creating buffer zones is fraught with complications:
…the problem in Ranthambore, as well as other reserves, is that the only area they can designate as buffer is not anywhere tourists would want to visit – let alone tigers. There, the buffer is a wilderness with very little flora or fauna, littered with gravel mines. To reach the zone, tigers would have to travel 35 miles from the main park, and even cross main roads.
There are also many people living in the buffer – 62 villages have been relocated there from the core area since the 1970s.
Indeed, before the creation of the tiger reserve, residents made their living by farming wheat and mustard-seed, chopping down trees in the reserve or poaching tigers for their body parts.
Yadvendra Singh, who heads an impromptu “Tigers and Tourism” committee that several hundred Ranthambhore-area drivers have formed, tells the Los Angeles Times that, for the tigers to get to the reserve, “They’d have to make arrangements with KLM airlines.”
YK Sahu, divisional forest officer at Ranthambore where 27 adult tigers and 25 cubs live in a national park, argues that tourists help to protect tigers: “If the Taj Mahal was not a tourist site, would it look as it does in its present form? All of the marble would have been stolen by now.”
India’s Supreme Court is to meet again on August 22 to consider the ban. How best to preserve the tiger population in India, where half the world’s tigers live? Is there a need for better regulation of tourism, rather than eliminating it entirely?
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Photo by Koshyk