Tourism is tigers’ best bet By Anindita Chattopadhyay

Published: December 2nd, 2013,5:51

Tourism is tigers’ best bet
By Anindita Chattopadhyay

Tiger, Tiger. burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye.
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

These lines from the poem ‘The Tiger’ by William Blake have always fascinated me as it evokes the picture of the majestic creature standing royally in its natural habitat. Honestly, who wouldn’t be fascinated to watch the tiger at its ferocious best prowling the jungles at night? Unfortunately, this beautiful creature is disappearing fast. The last time we counted (the next quadrennial tiger census has just begun) there were only 1700 tigers left in the country. And some 3,200 odd tigers walk the face of the earth.

It took us less than 100 years to bring the number of Royal Bengal tigers crashing down from 45,000 to 1,700. The sharp decline in tiger population speaks volume about indiscriminate hunting and poaching that went on for years. Despite governmental efforts to address the situation, we have seen the Sariska sanctuary had been completely wiped out of tigers. Namdapha reserve in Arunachal Pradesh which was home to 61 big cats had the whole population decimated by 2005. And tiger reserves in Nagarjunasagar, Palamau and Simplipal are tottering on the brink.

If unscrupulous poachers are out to line their nest selling tiger skin and tooth, our quest for development has not helped the tiger’s cause either. More and more incidents of human-tiger conflict underscore the fact that the big cat is fighting a turf war – albeit a losing one – even as local communities encroach on its habitat, the government builds roads and railway tracks across its territories, and industrialists mine dense forests.

The Government may have allocated funds for relocation of human population away from tiger reserves to minimize human-tiger confrontation, but bureaucratic sloth has ensured slow progress in work. Still, Local Area Committees have not been formed in many places. Even in places where villagers are vigorously demanding to be resettled, relocation is happening at snail’s pace. Many State governments are yet to demarcate the core area and the buffer zone. Further, unchecked developmental activities within forest areas confirm that State Governments are not complying with the Union Government directives.

It doesn’t merit reiteration that poor policy implementation and corrupt authorities have failed appallingly in arresting poaching or reclaiming tiger habitat despite crores of Government funding for Project Tiger. The last census revealed that tigers disappeared from 21,000 sq km of Indian forests. What worries conservationists most is the fact that tigers are losing large areas of their natural passageways and are getting confined to isolated pockets as it may lead to fatal genetic flaws in tiger population in future.

Tourism also stands guilty of showing lack of concern for the wildlife. From building resorts blocking wildlife corridors to playing blaring music at night, from dumping garbage to rows of vehicles rumbling down tiger trails, it has been tourism at its unregulated best. This lack of a clear regulatory mechanism had prompted the Supreme Court to ban tourism (the order was later lifted) in the country’s 41 tiger reserves in July 2012.

 Yet, it would not be wrong to say that tourism is the best bet for tigers against poachers.  Presence of tourists and buzzing activity actually deter poachers, who would otherwise have a field day in a virtually empty forest. Most importantly, tourism can generate employment for the local communities living near tiger reserves – communities that are hunting grounds for poaching gangs to recruit foot-soldiers. And an alternate livelihood option other than farming won’t make locals wary of tiger conservation. In fact, it would augur well if the Government make the tourism industry and the community partners in its effort to protect the natural habitat and wildlife.

What is required is putting a mechanism in place to arrest irresponsible tourism. The authorities must compel the resort and lodge owners to follow sustainable tourism practices such as, contributing to conservation and increasing eco-efficiency by using LED lights, recycling water and minimising green gas emission. The new NTCA guideline allowing “regulated low impact tourism (visitation only) in core and critical tiger habitat areas subject to site-specific carrying capacity” and banning “new tourism infrastructure in tiger habitat” are steps in the right direction. Further, the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests should impose crackdown on States found wanting to improve matters.

Most importantly, it must be ensured that locals get employment. Short-changing locals is a common practice by outsiders running businesses in the parks. What the industry practitioners fail to understand is that lure of more money may force disgruntled locals to join hands with poachers and a dwindling tiger population would bring business down.

(The writer was Senior Editor, Edit-Opinion desk, The Pioneer, former Bureau Chief, Indian Express Business Publication Div and is recipient of the LK Bakshi award) 

Another write up by the writer on Adventure Tourism in India

Published: December 2nd, 2013,5:51

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