Tiger tourism in India

Is tourism good for India’s vanishing tigers? Justin Francis, managing director of the travel agency Responsibletravel.com, believes the decision to ban tiger tourism is correct.

This week, India’s National Tiger Conservation Authority announced that it plans to phase out tourism in its 37 tiger reserves. Here we ask two experts whether the government was right to take such a drastic step to arrest the decline of this endangered species, which now numbers just 1,350 in the whole of the subcontinent.

ustin Francis, managing director of the travel agency Responsibletravel.com, says:

I have reluctantly concluded that the Indian government’s decision to ban tiger tourism in core conservation areas in the short term is the correct one.

The government’s failure to manage tourism responsibly has, by its own admission, resulted in lodges being built in sensitive habitats; hotels blocking corridors tigers follow between conservation areas; and unregulated viewing, which has disturbed tigers.

Justin Francis believes the Indian Government has failed to manage tourism effectively

Despite the excellent work done by responsible tour operators and lodges to support conservation, tourism has damaged tiger populations.

My reluctance in agreeing with the ban stems from my belief that in the long term conservation works only when it is done in partnership with local communities who live around parks and with whom we need to work to reduce poaching and damage to tiger habitats through gathering of firewood, cattle grazing etc.

Tourists will be deprived of one of wildlife’s great sights; but local communities involved in tourism will also be deprived of livelihoods and economic incentives for tiger conservation.

Over the longer term, I don’t believe that it will be practical to protect park boundaries from encroachment by impoverished local people if they see no benefit from wildlife conservation. The Indian government will need to create alternative livelihoods for communities previously involved with tiger tourism.

Some will argue that India should stamp out destructive tourism and retain responsible tourism. I agree – but this has been widely advocated for the past 20 years and the government cannot manage it. We don’t have the luxury of time to try to reorganise tourism – tigers may be extinct within five years. Let’s hope that better regulated, responsible tiger tourism can return when numbers have improved. Tourists, too, have a critical role to play, and must ask tougher questions of tour operators and lodges regarding their commitments to conservation and community development.

This is a seminal moment in the history of ecotourism. Other destinations and countries need to take note to avoid similar results.

By Justin Francis From Telegraph

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