There is a movement afoot in INDIA to severely limit and even ban tourism in the core area of tiger reserves. “Tourists are to be banned from the heartlands of the 37 national tiger reserves in India amid fears that their presence is hastening the demise of an increasingly endangered species,” quoted a recent news story. “Tourism creates a disturbance through vehicles, noise pollution, garbage and the need to provide facilities,” said the government-run National Tiger Conservation Authority, alarmed that the tiger population has plummeted from 3642 in 2002 to just 1411 last year. There is no doubt that there needs to be a plan that will make tiger conservation and tiger tourism complementary and sustainable. And there is no doubt that some tourist zones are overcrowded at times and greater discipline is needed to control the drivers and guides who become bug-eyed steroidal cowboys when a tiger is sighted. But to imply that tourism has caused the plummet in tiger numbers is misleading and unfair.
•The tourism industry provides jobs and income to countless individuals who might otherwise be tempted to seek money from other sources. The hotel and lodge industry has an immense financial stake in the survival of the tiger. The millions of dollars invested in the lodges surrounding Ranthambhore, Kanha, and Bandhavgarh would dry up overnight if there were no tigers.
•The two tiger reserves in India that have lost every single tiger, Sariska and Panna, had minimum tourism. Bandhavgarh, on the other hand, possibly the most tourist-intense tiger park, has its tiger population flourishing in the core tourist area.
•Vehicles driving around with tourists are, in effect, anti-poaching patrols, often in the notable absence of official patrolling. Word of mouth among drivers and guides is an excellent source of keeping tabs on where the tigers are and where they are not.
•Tourism could and should be used in support of tiger conservation. The Mountain Travel Sobek Save The Tiger trip I lead has taken 146 people into tiger country and generated a significant amount of money which has been put back into the field in India and Nepal for tiger protection programs.
•Many people who have seen a tiger in the wild have become fierce tiger advocates and continue to support tiger conservation efforts.
•Tourism is not killing tigers. Tigers are being killed by the loss of habitat, poachers, wildlife crime syndicates, and the perpetuation of the myth of the efficacy of tiger medicines thousands of miles away.
Source: The Fund For The Tiger Newsletter, Summer 2009
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