Bandipur: Ecotourist, tread carefully

Our demand for wildlife holidays has caused the forest department to keep parks like Bandipur Tiger Reserve open to visitors even during summer. In Bandipur, which receives around 400 tourists a day, these footprints add up to a massive but unseen impact on wildlife and their habitat, write M D Madhusudan and Pavithra Sankaran

Human beings have always looked upon everything in nature as resources. Forests continue to provide us a staggering range of raw and finished products. Wildlife too, are resources. And there are different ways of using these resources—we hunt deer for meat, trap tigers for skin, poach elephants for ivory. We cut trees to cook dinner, to make chairs, to lay fashionable floors.

We mine ore under forests and use the iron to build bridges. These are several ways of using our forest resources. But over time, there has come a small but growing realisation that we cannot afford to care only about the commodified value of these resources. More importantly perhaps, we need to value and preserve them as living resources.

This is where tourism offers us a very different way of valuing and utilising forest resources. The consumption of wood, meat and ore may sustain livelihoods and foster commerce. But such use also renders a resource finite. The recognition that these uses leave us with less of the resource for the future, has prompted us to explore sustainable ways of using nature to support livelihoods and further commerce. Tourism, as opposed to mining or logging, does not involve extraction and seems the ideal way of keeping a resource intact, while continuing to derive economic benefits.

Ecotourism, goes one step further. Not only does it mean commercial but non-extractive use of forests, but also sharing of economic benefits with local communities. To be equitable and successful, ecotourism also has to offset the loss of livelihood for people who depend on extractive use of the forest. Unless a different way of making a livelihood is offered to the villagers who gather honey, collect firewood or graze cattle in the forest, preventing them from removing these products from the forest is not just unfair; it simply will not work.

If that is the philosophy of ecotourism, how has it fared, in practice? Are we, to paraphrase a government slogan, “taking only memories and leaving only footprints” when we holiday in our wildlife sanctuaries and national parks?

Footprints we leave behind

Let us look a little more closely at our footprints. We leave them behind in the form of large, old trees cut to make roads within forests so that we can go see wildlife. In the form of vast numbers of vehicles entering sanctuaries and parks on these roads each day. In creating and maintaining artificial ‘view lines’ on either side of forest roads by regularly clearing natural plant growth. In fact, our demand for wildlife holidays has caused the forest department to keep parks like Bandipur Tiger Reserve open to visitors even during the summer, taking staff away from fire prevention and control. We even demand evening campfires in our resorts, burning wood cut from the very forests we have come to see. In a place like Bandipur, which receives around 400 tourists each day, these footprints add up to a massive but unseen impact on wildlife and their habitat.

What about local communities?

As for sharing the economic benefits, we must ask if and how the rapid growth of wildlife tourism has benefitted local people. Your weekend may have been made memorable by the herd of elephants you saw on the morning safari. But did you know the same placid herd had just then ambled back from a raid in a jowar field right behind your resort, ruining a farmer for the year? In fact, the man who carried away your breakfast plate may have tilled the very land your resort stands on; unable to bear the losses from crop raiding elephants year after year, he may have sold it.

While local communities certainly have an impact on the forests they depend on for firewood and grazing, they also subsidise conservation in ways that have almost never been measured. Were it not for the immense tolerance of local people, there would be far fewer of these wild animals for us to see. As tourists who derive the benefits of sanctuaries and parks, do we not have a responsibility to share in their costs?
One way of offsetting costs is to provide employment to local people. Few, if any, resorts make it a policy to hire people from villages around the resort; it is far cheaper to employ a migrant labourer. A noteworthy exception is the government-run Jungle Lodges and Resorts where around 80 per cent of the staff in most of their properties are from local communities.

The form of ecotourism we encounter today achieves none of its original goals. In fact, it enlarges our footprint on the forest and totally ignores the second commandment of giving back to local communities. But this can change. Ecotourism businesses, like any other, care about consumers, not crusaders. You and I can ask the right questions of our resorts, demand responsible behaviour and achieve a change that no amount of regulation can bring about.

WHAT YOU CAN ‘RESORT’ TO…

Learn a little about the park or sanctuary you are going to before you get there. This will enrich your experience because you will know what to look for and ask about.

Talk to local people. If there are local people employed at your resort, ask them about the place, how it used to be and how it has changed. Try to find out how the park and tourism in the area has benefitted or affected them.

Ask questions to your resort: where is the wood for your camp-fire coming from? Do they have guides? Are their employees hired from local communities? Are the vegetables in your meal bought locally from farmers?

Demand a well-trained guide. Sadly, most resorts have no trained guides or only very poorly-trained ones. Good guiding is not only about showing you elephants and tigers, it is also about revealing the small but fascinating inhabitants of the forest like birds, butterflies, spiders and their secret lives to you.

The rules in parks and sanctuaries are meant to keep you safe from potentially dangerous wildlife. Please follow them for your own safety and for the safety of wildlife. Do not drive above the speed limit, do not feed animals and certainly do not get out of your vehicle in a forest.

From Deccan Herald

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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

No plan to stop tiger tourism says India

NEW DELHI India’s environment minister yesterday denied reports that the government was planning to phase out tourism in the country’s world famous tiger reserves.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world travel to India every year to catch a glimpse of a Bengal tiger, one of the world’s most endangered species, and a ban would have dealt a heavy blow to the country’s tourism industry.

Jairam Ramesh, India’s minister for the environment and forests, said: “Our policy is to develop a set of guidelines for eco-tourism where tourism takes place in a sustainable way, linked to the carrying capacity of the reserves. We are not at all interested in stopping tiger tourism.”

Last week, the Times of London reported that the National Tiger Conservation Authority was planning to phase out tourism in the core area of India’s tiger reserves because large numbers of visitors were destroying the cat’s habitat and driving away prey.

Six of India’s 37 tiger reserves are open to tourists and the core areas offer the best chance of sighting one of these elusive animals.

The report sent shockwaves though India’s high-end tourism industry and many experts spoke out against such a ban, saying that well-managed tourism is one of the best ways to ensure the big cat’s survival.

India’s tiger population has plummeted in recent years as a result of poaching and loss of habitat.

A census in February 2008 showed India’s tiger population had dropped to 1,411 from 3,642 in 2002. Some experts say there may be as few as 800 wild tigers left in India and that the species could be extinct in five years.

Mr Ramesh said that tourism at some reserves needed to be better regulated but that revenues generated from visitors meant that the local communities were invested in the animal’s long term survival.

“Tourism is the only way to generate revenue for the local community,” Mr Ramesh said. “We have no intention of stopping tourism.”

hgardner@thenational.ae – From THE NATIONAL

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

Anamalai Tiger Reserve re-opening today

Tirupur: The Anamalai Tiger Reserve (ATR), of which the Amaravathi Crocodile farm in Udumalpet is a part, will be reopened to the visitors from May 1. Official sources told reporters here that the sanctuary was closed for summer from March 16 fearing possibilities of forest fire breakouts.

The sanctuary was scheduled to be re-opened on April 15 initially but got postponed due to the continuation of dry spells in the region.

Hot conditions

Forest officials said that with relief in hot conditions over the last few days and considering the requests from the tourists, it had been decided to re-open the sanctuary on Saturday, officical sources added.

From THE HINDU

Thailand: Disappearing Greater Mekong tigers underscore global threats

Hua Hin, Thailand – Tiger numbers have fallen by more than 70 percent in slightly more than a decade in the Greater Mekong, with the region’s five countries containing only 350 tigers, according to a new WWF report.

Tigers on the Brink: Facing up to the Challenge in the Greater Mekong, states that tiger populations in the Greater Mekong – an area that includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – have plummeted from an estimated 1,200 during the last Year of the Tiger in 1998 to about 350 today.

Demand for tiger body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine and habitat fragmentation from unsustainable regional infrastructure development have driven the decline of the region’s Indochinese tiger population.© Edward Parker/WWF-Canon

Major decline since the last Year of the Tiger

This decline is reflected in the global wild tiger population, which is at an all time low of 3,200 – down from an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 during the last Year of the Tiger. The report states that increasing demand for tiger body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine and habitat fragmentation from unsustainable regional infrastructure development have driven the decline of the region’s Indochinese tiger population.

Tigers on the Brink, released today, comes as leaders from tiger range countries prepare to meet for the first Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation in Hua Hin.

Tigers at the tipping point

“Decisive action must be taken to ensure this iconic sub-species does not reach the point of no return,” said Nick Cox, Coordinator of the WWF Greater Mekong Tiger Programme. “There is a potential for tiger populations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to become locally extinct by the next Year of the Tiger in 2022, if we don’t step up actions to protect them.”

Indochinese tigers historically were found in abundance across the Greater Mekong region. Today, there are no more than 30 individual tigers per country in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. The remaining populations are predominantly found in the Kayah Karen Tenasserim mountain border between Thailand and Myanmar.

There is still time to reverse the decline

However, despite these negative trends there is still time to save the Greater Mekong’s tigers. The region contains the largest combined tiger habitat in the world. Forest landscapes spanning 540,000km2, or roughly the size of France, are priority areas for current tiger conservation efforts.

“This region has huge potential to increase tiger numbers, but only if there are bold and coordinated efforts across the region and of an unprecedented scale that can protect existing tigers, tiger prey and their habitat,” said Cox.

WWF calls on governments to double number of wild tigers by 2022

At the meeting, WWF is calling on ministers of the 13 tiger range countries meeting in Hua Hin to step up efforts to double the numbers of wild tigers by 2022. Tiger range states include Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The first Asian Ministerial Conference on Tiger Conservation, which runs from 27-30 of January, is part of a global political process to secure the tiger’s future. These efforts will culminate in a Tiger Summit in Vladivostok, Russia, this September, to be hosted by Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and co-chaired by the World Bank’s President Robert Zoellick.

“There is an unprecedented opportunity to galvanise political will and action to turn the tide on wild tiger numbers,” said Mike Baltzer, Leader of WWF’s Global Tiger Initiative. “But to do this, we must stop the trade in tiger parts, rampant poaching, and secure the tiger’s habitats.”

From WWF

Ooty: Training programme for tiger census commences

Data will be compiled by the Wildlife Institute of India

Udhagamandalam: A four-day training programme on ‘Synchronised Tiger Population Estimation’ for forest officials, organized by the Forest Department, got underway at the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) near here on Friday.

Inaugurating the programme, the Chief Conservator of Forests (Wild Life) V.N.Singh adverted to its significance and the important contribution of the MTR.

He pointed out that when such an exercise was organized during 2006, Mudumalai was only a sanctuary and had not been made part of Project Tiger, he said that even then the population of the apex species was quite healthy there.

However after being converted into a tiger reserve, it has become one of the best of its kind thanks to the strengthening of conservation measures.

Density

Stating that the density of the carnivore in the 326-kilometre MTR was about 56, Mr.Singh said that it was one of the highest in the country.

MTR ranked fourth among the tiger reserves and among the newly-formed ones it headed the list.

Pointing out that the Union Government was conducting the survey once in four years, he said that the data will be compiled by the Wildlife Institute of India.

Along with MTR, the survey would be conducted at Kalakad- Mundanthorai and Anamalais in Tamil Nadu during February.

Among those participating were senior officers of the three places.

From THE HINDU