India’s Supreme Court is to decide, based on a recent petition, whether to accept proposals to shift tourists to “fringe” or “buffer zones” outside core tiger habitats in order to protect the endangered species.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) which has filed the petition, puts the number of remaining tigers in India at 1,706, spread among 40 wildlife reserves.
However, according to Save The Tiger, a large Indian non-profit organization, there are just 1,411 tigers left in India. That’s down from around 40,000 at the turn of the last century.
With tigers nearing extinction levels the government has made several conservation initiatives, including www.projecttiger.nic.in, as have companies like telecom provider Aircel with its Save Our Tigers campaign.
Now the NTCA, which spends a large amount on conservation efforts that helps bring in India’s tourist industry some Rs 2 billion, or the equivalent of US$40 million, has now said that tourists have to be kept away from critical tiger habitats.
Tourist lodges deep inside tiger reserves are said to block tigers’ paths between forest parks, and vehicles used by tourists in Bandhavgarh National Park recently have killed two tigers.
Some observers describe this situation as a double-edged sword.
“If tourism has to be stopped in core areas, protection and patrolling need to go up,” said Prafulla Bhamburkar, regional manager, Wildlife Trust of India.
These proposals could affect India’s most famous tiger reserves such as Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh and India’s oldest tiger reserve, Corbett.
“It should not happen that tourists are moved out and poachers replace them,” Bhamburkar said.
“Humans living in tiger reserves pose the biggest danger not the tourism,” added Belinda Wright of Wildlife Protection Society of India. Wright owns a lodge in Kanha tiger reserve in Madhya Pradesh.
India, home to the world’s largest number of wild tigers, attracts 17 million foreigners each year, granting more than US$100 billion in revenues, according to tour group Travel Operators for Tigers.