On July 24, the India Supreme Court banned tiger tourism in reserves across the country to protect the endangered animals. India is home to more than half of the remaining tigers in the world, but the World Wildlife Fund says the population has dramatically declined from 100,000 at the start of the century to around 1,700 now. Some believe the thousands of tourists who book accommodation at venues in the nation’s forests are part of the cause for this population decline, which is where the ban came into play.
There are 41 government-operated tiger reserves that are divided into core and buffer zones. Buffer zones are the up to six miles of fringe areas that surround the reserves. Conservationists argue that commercial tourism needs to be kept outside core zones, where many of the tigers hunt and breed. During the temporary ban, conservationists were pitted against one another – some claiming to have a solution to the matter.
Activist Ajay Dubey complained that officials in several states allowed hotels and resorts to be built in the core areas of some tiger reserves without any controls. Limiting the access tourists have to these parts of the parks is a small price to pay for the pressure being put on the animals.
At the same time, some conservationists and tour operators were arguing that tourists aren’t killing the tigers…poachers are. They claimed that ensuring locals benefit from tiger conservation is essential to keeping them from encroaching and working with poachers on the reserves. India’s Wildlife Protection Society predicts that 26 tigers have been killed by poachers this year, with many parts of the animals finding their way into Chinese medicine markets.
However, on Tuesday, the Supreme Court said that tiger tourism could continue inside India’s reserves, but it has put some conditions in place. It has ruled that some activity will be allowed for low-impact, regulated tourism. States are allowed to challenge the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s new guidelines as they see fit. This includes an order that all permanent structures be phased out from core areas and tourism be limited to 20%. New tourism infrastructure has also been banned from the reserves.
There were objections raised by state governments about the temporary ban dealing a blow to their economies, which depend on tourism. The Supreme Court ordered the states on Tuesday to get a tiger conservation plan ready within half a year, which will be submitted to the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
Travel Operators of Tigers (TOFT) director Vishal Singh says that the tiger tourism ban has made sure that a range of opinions are known. It has also produced some guidelines to halt poor tourism. However, hundreds of thousands of local livelihoods and legal businesses have been indirectly and directly impacted in a negative way.
Singh added that it’s time to return to work to ensure revenues from park fees flow back into communities and conservation again, livelihoods are restored, and legal businesses are permitted to continue showing the very best natural heritage of India. He hopes the ban and debates will help local citizens, park guides and lodge owners work together better in the coming years than they do now.