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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Valmik Thapar calls for review of tourism ban recommendation in core tiger areas

Aug 21, 2012, 12.00AM IST TIMES VIEW Tourism complements conservation Tiger expert Valmik Thapar's call for a review of the Union environment ministry's guidelines recommending a ban on tiger tourism in the core areas of tiger reserves is sensible. There's no denying the fact that the tiger population in the country is precarious. Massive efforts are needed to crack down on poaching and boost tiger numbers. However, tiger tourism isn't incompatible with this aim. In fact, sealing off core areas of tiger reserves would curb accountability, lead to unemployment among locals and create fertile grounds for poaching. If tiger numbers have seen a small rise from 1,400 to 1,700 since 2008, it's because of smarter conservation efforts, of which tiger tourism is an integral part. The main threat to the tiger population is from the illegal trade in tiger parts. Tiger bones, skin, teeth, claws, etc valued at millions of dollars are smuggled worldwide through an insidious network over which no single authority can exercise jurisdiction. In such a scenario, the only way to curb this illegal trade is to educate people about conservation efforts. This is where tiger tourism comes in. Conducted in the proper way, it can sensitise the public about the threat to tigers from adverse human activities. Meanwhile, by employing locals, tiger tourism can make them valuable stakeholders in conservation efforts - it becomes their interest to protect tiger habitats to ensure the viability of tourism activities. On the other hand, banning tourism in core areas would greatly reduce interest in tiger tourism and diminish the economic viability of the reserves. This would make it far easier for poachers to infiltrate the reserves by co-opting the forest rangers. The experience in African countries too has shown that ecotourism is critical to conservation efforts. Instead of completely banning tourism in core tiger areas, the focus must shift to sensitive tourism that complements tiger conservation policies. COUNTERVIEW It's as harmful as poaching Pyaralal Raghavan The attempt to force the prime minister to intervene and review the tourism ban in core areas of the tiger reserves speaks a lot of the power of the wildlife tourism lobby. But it does not change the fact that India's tiger population of around 1,706 is too minuscule to be weighed down with the burden of attracting millions of wildlife tourists each year. Though wildlife tourism may stake a claim to the presumed success of the tiger protection efforts, one should remember that the increase in tiger population in recent years is mainly because of the larger additions in the far-flung northeastern hills, the Brahmaputra flood plains and the Western Ghats, which are too far away for the hordes of urban tourists that plague the wildlife sanctuaries during holiday seasons and long weekends. In contrast, the more tourist-heavy tiger sanctuaries in the Shivalik Gangetic plains, central India and Eastern Ghats, where tiger reserves have almost become like open zoos, have shown no such improvement. The popular argument that wildlife tourism generates local employment and income and provides an incentive to check on poaching is dubious, given our experience with the Sariska and Panna reserves where the tiger popu-lation went totally extinct. And the trend continues even now with 23 tigers poached inside the tiger reserves and another 42 outside the tiger reserves in the last three years alone. The impact of wildlife tourism is negative as growing numbers of tourists and resorts not only hinder the free movement of animals but are also a large drain on scarce resources like water. Many even point out that the killing of smaller animals for meat, so that tigers can be lured to where tourists view them, has led to a depletion of smaller wildlife in many areas. It is best, therefore, that tigers are protected both from poachers and tourists with equal vigour.

1 comment:

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