Tigers under threat: India to limit tourist access to rapidly diminishing Bengal population
By Travelmail Reporter
Last updated at 12:23 PM on 29th April 2010
It has long been one of the rare pleasures of a holiday in India – with emphasis on the word ‘rare’. Seeing a Bengal tiger in the wilds of the sub-continent is the dream of any visitor to the great Indian national parks such as Rathnambore and Bandhavgarh.
But the chances of spotting this famous big cat – already an unlikely prospect – have become dramatically slimmer this week, with the news that the Indian government is to severely reduce tourist access to an elusive creature that is being ‘loved to death’.
Tourism is to be cut back in parts of 37 tiger reserves as authorities seek to limit the inadvertent harm caused by holidaymakers’ attempts to catch sight of the creature.
Viewing parties, whether in motorised vehicles or on the back of elephants, trample down the high grassland where tigers hunt for prey – while building projects in some game reserves have added further disruption and hindrance to the animals’ routine.
‘Tiger reserves are primarily for conserving the endangered tiger, and tourism is just a secondary outcome,’ Rajesh Gopal, the head of India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority, told The Times.
‘Our reserves are small and prone to disturbance caused by tourism. They cannot compete with large African savannah parks, which can stand large number of tourists.’
The precise number of tigers currently in India is disputed. In February 2008, the head count was deemed to be 1,411 – but some estimates put the figure as low as 800.
By contrast, there were 3,642 Bengal tigers in India as recently as 2002 – although that statistic pales in comparison to the healthy population that existed a century ago. Up to 40,000 tigers were believed to be alive in India at the start of the 20th century.
Poaching has played the most significant role in the tiger’s decline – 832 are known to have been killed between 1994 and 2007 – but tourism’s impact should not be played down, according to one wildlife expert.
‘Seeing a wild tiger has become a kind of status symbol,” says M. K. Ranjitsinh, chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India.
‘People do not realise the harm to the broader ecosystem. They are loving the tiger to death.’
India’s Environment Ministry has ordered the country’s states to phase out tourism in the 37 listed areas as efforts to protect the remaining tigers are stepped up.