Photo: Tapan Jasani/Entry-Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017
A few years ago, I attended a book launch in the capital where three of India’s best-known tiger experts spoke about the tiger and how tourism could and did benefit its conservation. However, when discussion was opened to the floor for comments and questions, it was as though none of them had spoken. Journalists, tiger lovers and the author’s friends, almost all seemed united in their antipathy towards wildlife tourism. It was an echo of the events of 2012 when the Supreme Court closed tiger reserves for tourism for a period and much was written in the press about the negative impacts of tourism.
This has always made me wonder. Elsewhere in the world, tourism is viewed as an important conservation tool, but in India, the prevailing attitude seems to be that it is a disaster for wildlife; that it is an industry that creates damage and is exploitative of the natural resources that attract the visitor. The “costs are heavy and the gains limited” is a predominant view. Resorts are accused of blocking tiger corridors, depleting forests and being a serious “threat” to wildlife. Furthermore, it is often written that the hotels’ contribution to local communities is meagre and many call for enforcing a conservation fee, even cess, on the hospitality industry around Protected Areas claiming that they are making their “profit on a resource managed by taxpayers’ money” (as though this was unique to wildlife tourism!).
The results of a new study cast a more positive light and show that facts actually paint a rather different picture. The research, led by eminent tiger scientist Dr. Raghu Chundawat, was presented in a preliminary report published by TOFTigers and Baavan, entitled The Value of Wildlife Tourism for Conservation and Communities. Four tiger reserves of central India – Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Panna and Pench – were examined and the results not only dispel many of the prevailing wildlife tourism myths, but are encouraging in providing a possible way forward to extend...