A short-sighted policy on tiger conservation, a black mark on eco-tourism

The recent ban on tourism activity in core areas of tiger reserves by the Supreme Court was a very narrow way of dealing with the issue of tiger conservation. Blaming tourism for the lessening of tiger population, after decade long efforts put forward by enacting the Wild Life Protection Act (1972), Project Tiger (1973-74) and the implementation of Tiger Conservation Authority (December, 2005), has proved the failure of these policies and initiatives. The ongoing extinction of tiger in India is mainly due to the failure of these policies. If that’s not the case, then why are the conservationists raising concerns about the declining tiger population?

Tourism as claimed by law makers as the sole reason for declining tiger population was not a good judgment. Tourism on the other side plays a major role in contributing to the development of our economy in today’s time of global financial crisis. The rate of employment generation due to tourism activity is on the rise and its positive effect on the income generation of lower- middle class can be seen as an opportunity rather than blaming it for tiger extinction. Besides, the Tiger Tourism happened only in less than 10 of the 41 reserves in country. So who is the actual culprit?

The Karnataka region should be identified as one of the country’s largest reserves and that will be affected badly due to the ban on tourism activity. According to the case study done by prominent freelance ecotourism consultant, Mr. Champati Sarath, ( the founder-member of the ecotourism Society of India) on the positive aspect of Tiger Tourism in the Kabini area of Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, less than 10 percent of the area is used for tourism. Even the maximum number of people on each safari trip was limited to 12 and the safari conducted twice a day.

It should be noted that Nagarhole is identified as the ‘core critical tiger habitat’ besides Bandipur by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). There is a strong emphasis on converting visitor into ambassadors of conservation, which is the ultimate aim of ecotourism. These visitors then form a strong lobby for and conservation and specifically saving tiger in our country. Therefore, it is totally baseless to claim tourism as the main factor in dwindling tiger population.

In Karnataka, the important core area of tiger reserves like Anshi Dandeli in Uttara Kannada district, Bandipur National Park, Nagarahole national park and Bhandra in Chikmagalur district together accounted for 1,34,293 tourist in 2011. So if tourism is banned in these areas, how much of an impact will it have on the state, district and local needy people.

It is time the government and the respective private organization to adopt a holistic approach in dealing with tiger conservation and its habitat, conducting effective workshops on practicing responsible tourism. Educating younger generation about the significance of tiger conservation and creating mass awareness through the news media which can really make a difference if both public and private sector put an effort together on enhancing them.

The recent order of the Supreme Court on banning tourism activity in core areas of tiger reserves needed a review on the decision since the people of the state had raised concern on this issue. The matter will come up on further hearing in the Supreme Court on August 22, 012.

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