The 'Tiger Tourism' Question
By Nirmal Ghosh
With due respect to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) which I have no doubt works hard to carry out its mandate to protect the tiger, the proposal to ban tourism in 'core areas' of tiger reserves is, to put it bluntly, silly and misguided.
(For background see this article and comment)
The Supreme Court had a hearing on the petition this week, and adjourned its hearing until the first week of December.
First, some disclosure.
- I am a Trustee of The Corbett Foundation, which works with communities on the periphery of Corbett Tiger Reserve. The Foundation is associated with Infinity Resorts, which has a lodge at Dhikuli, Uttarakhand. Infinity Resorts was the first resort to set up in the location, and specializes in ecotourism. I derive no monetary gain whatsoever from my association with the Foundation, which has a long track record of excellent conservation work. I have no stake at all in tourism, beyond being a tourist myself when I visit a tiger reserve anywhere. I have also been a member of the Steering Committee of Project Elephant, and a member of the managing committee of Friends of the Doon which has done excellent work in Rajaji National Park. All this is a matter of public record.
- Furthermore, in 1987 I was appointed member secretary of a ministry of environment committee set up by then-joint secretary (wildlife) Dr. M. K. Ranjitisinh, to study the impact of tourism in national parks and sanctuaries. We studied over 12 areas (including Sariska, Ranthambore, Corbett, Gir, Bandipur and Mudumalai and Nagarahole, and Keoladeo Ghana), and produced reports and recommendations on the management of tourism. The recommendations were essentially geared to limiting tourism, while recognizing that tourism is an important and indispensable tool for promoting awareness of wildlife.
I am NOT a fan of unlimited and unregulated or mismanaged tourism. Personally, I avoid places where tourism runs riot. I believe and have always advocated, that tourism should be strictly managed in a professional manner similar to what takes place in national parks in north America and South Africa - both at sea and on land. Managers should be properly trained and empowered and resourced, to manage tourism. I have argued for a professional cadre of guides and Rangers dedicated to tourism management, empowered and with full and proper authority, at Corbett National Park, both to manage tourism as well as provide professional quality tourism services that enhance the tourism experience.
I also believe tourism in peripheral areas away from core zones should be encouraged to spread the load, and to minimize disturbance in prime wildlife habitats. But I do not see the rationale for banning tourists entirely from inside core areas.
Let us look at the intervening years. Who wiped out tigers from Sariska and Panna? It wasn’t tourists. And remember, Tiger Reserves already have ‘inviolate’ core areas. How come in 2000-01, elephants were poached in Corbett, both outside and inside these ‘inviolate’ core areas?? Where have all the tigers that have been poached been killed? In tourism zones or in already inviolate core areas? Are there GIS maps and data to prove this?
Yes, the proliferation of resorts in places like Ranthambhore, Corbett and Kanha to name just a few, disturb habitat on the fringes of protected areas. There are few controls on sound and light pollution, and waste disposal. But who is responsible for enforcing standards in these areas? Surely, it is local authorities. In a free market people will try and get away with things unless there are rules to limit certain activities â€“ and more importantly enforcement of those rules. If relevant authorities are incapable of enforcing rules, or themselves do not observe rules, what is the answer? When you have a wound on your foot, do you treat the wound or cut off the leg?
The petition wants tourists out and only ‘management interventions’ allowed in core zones.
And what are these ‘management interventions’ that will be allowed? If the area is to be inviolate surely these vague ''management interventions'' should also not be allowed? They are not necessary in the first place if the principle is to leave these places ‘inviolate’. This will be a huge source of corruption and malpractice as visits to these so-called ‘inviolate’ areas will be in high demand and VIPs and celebrities will subvert the system â€“ because local officials will be threatened and overridden and won’t be able to say ‘No’ â€“ and get a free run in government jeeps.
Also, how is the fact that there are actually more tigers in areas frequented by tourists than those that are not, to be explained? And what about transparency and accountability in these core zones?
Please see this report on the debacle at Panna. Are tourists responsible for this?
Tourism â€“ whether it is ‘tiger tourism’ or birding â€“ brings in millions of Dollars to local communities across the country. Has the NTCA done any study on the benefits of tourism to local communities? To the drivers, the guides, the suppliers, the staff of tourist establishments and the local travel service entrepreneurs? The NTCA and all conservationists in their right minds know that local communities must support wildlife conservation for any wildlife to survive. We have been advocating this for years, and working hard at it. Tourism is one way to do this.
Besides, most conservationists started out as tourists. It’s not rocket science.
The petition is not backed by sound data, and is a waste of time and resources. The NTCA should instead be looking at ways to fix the problems of the wildlife department and ensure better management and protection of wildlife. Tourists can be a problem, but they are a minor problem and in fact a compelling case can be made that they are an asset. They can be the eyes and ears of a concerned and engaged public which has a stake in the preservation of natural resources and heritage that is the patrimony of all, not a select few.