Tourists help keep poachers away from tiger reserves

NEW DELHI: Opposing the ban on tourists from core regions of tiger reserves proposed by the environment ministry, Travel Operators for Tigers (TOFT) — a campaign spearheaded by international and national travel operators — has said that wildlife tourism, on the contrary, was saving forests and tigers.

The organization added that tourism ensured better security for tigers, and was the best anti-poaching mechanism even as it made forest personnel “highly and often uncomfortably accountable”.

TOFT chairman Julian Mathew said the agency would take up the issue with the ministries of tourism and environment to ensure better implementation of rules and regulations, adding that a ban on wildlife tourism was not the answer.

According to recent statistics, tiger numbers have come down from an estimated 3,642 in 2002 to 1,411 in February 2008. Experts say that actual numbers could be even lower. A recent tourism ministry study had shown that nearly 70% of resorts outside Corbett National Park were venues for weddings and parties rather than eco-tourism.

In a statement, TOFT pointed out that despite poor tourism practises being followed in the national park, it continued to be the “most visited” park in India and still had the highest number of tigers. It added that Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve had the heaviest density of tigers in its main Tala tourism zone and received 45,000 visits a year.

“When sub-adults leave this tourist zone seeking their own ranges in buffer zone forests, they get lost, poached or poisoned. Ranthambhore, with its 450 sq km and estimated 35-38 tigers, finds 22-23 (two-thirds) tigers in ranges that fall within the much smaller 130 sq km of the tourism zone. These facts suggest that the best tiger security and habitat exist in tourism zones, and tigers and prey sense it,” the statement said.

Highlighting the fact that good tourism practises not only provide a means of legitimate livelihood to people living in and around tiger reserves, TOFT said if it were not for tourism bringing economic value to the forest area, it would be sacrificed for mining, farming or industry.

Emphasizing that the alternative was to ensure implementation of rules and regulations, Mathew gave the instance of Madhya Pradesh’s ecosensitive zone regulations that have been stuck in the Supreme Court since 2006. “Tiger tourism is the best anti-poaching unit, operating vehicles watching for eight hours a day, deflecting poachers, loggers and grazers from being there,” Mathew said.

From TOI

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