Chicken or Egg?

Posted by: Bittu Sahgal on


What came first, wildlife, or wildlife tourism? That's a no-brainer as far as I am concerned. It was much after this that the tourism guys came in, attracted by easy pickings.

Even today, virtually no wildlife destination truly shares its wealth with the people living around reserves, nor do lodges actually help finance wildlife protection (save for a few notable exceptions). And I have yet to come across a farsighted tourism professional who decided to weld a community of forest dwellers living outside a protected together to turn their farms to forests, so they could set up a lodge that actually helped INCREASE the space available to wildlife. Of course not all wildlife tourism people are bad and I know some that would do much more today than they are allowed to, provided a sensitive, farsighted wildlife manager were around to enable them to do so.

As for the people Hira Punjabi has captured in this frame, mesmerised by the two tigers, I have no quarrel with them at all. They are all potential tiger ambassadors, though I am probably more aware than most that camouflaged amongst them could well be an idiot who throws sticks at wildlife to get an 'action shot'. The Park Management must enforce its own rules to prevent more than two or three vehicles from coming within 50 metres of a tiger. And, where a larger number await their 'darshan', the wildlife guides in each vehicle should be fined and he should be given a two or three entry ban (as is done for cricket captains for slow over rates) if their vehicle does not move away within a stipulated period of four or five minutes to give waiting vehicles a chance. 

In my view ill-behaved tourists (the ones who get out of cars to see tigers closer, or pitch bottles out of vehicles, or want loud music and parties in sacred zones, should be fined and habitual offenders should be punished by putting their names on a register and preventing them from entering any wildlife reserve for a year.

As for the construction lobby that builds and builds and builds? I believe they are best punished by having their ill-gotten licenses cancelled, their lodges demolished. The National Tiger Conservation Authority seeks to reduce the impact of unhealthy tourism and they will be supported by every right-thinking tourism professional who would celebrate if  a few builder-types lost a few crores as this would be the best way to dissuade other drooling builders from bribing their way into the heart of wild India.

I would start the cleansing process with the Corbett Tiger Reserve. And I would come down heavily on any effort to turn beautiful tiger reserves like Tadoba into the kind of hazard zones that lodge owners have turned Corbett. 

Its either this, or the tiger goes and, as we know, na rahe baans, na baje bansuri.