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Stricken at the core

How interim ban in core areas has hit tiger tourism

Written by Avishek G Dastidar | New Delhi |
August 1, 2012 12:24:52 am

The interim ban on tourism in core areas of tiger reserves has already started to tell on those who depend on tourists.

Tour operators across India are coping with a large number of cancellations and have put on hold new bookings for the upcoming peak season. Off-season tourism — the reserves are now shut — too has been hit,with visitors denied access to picnic spots of Pachmarhi falling withing the core area of Satpura tiger reserve,MP. And in Mudumalai,Tamil Nadu,shopkeepers in the reserve downed shutters for a day to protest the interim order.

The Supreme Court last week banned all tourism in core areas of tiger reserves,following a petition by conservationist Ajay Dubey who sought directions to states to notify their reserves’ buffer and peripheral areas as per the Wildlife Protection Act. States that have not yet notified their core and buffer areas have been given three weeks to do so.

The next date for hearing is August 22. If core areas are eventually declared out of bounds for tourists,it could effectively end tiger tourism,which is essentially vehicular safaris to sight tigers in the wild.

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“For now we have kept bookings on hold because the judgment is expected in three weeks,” said Vishal Singh,director,Travel Operators for Tigers-India,an umbrella body of tour operators who take tourists into national parks. He insisted,“Our study shows that eco-tourism in tiger reserves has not adversely affected tiger numbers over the years.”

Tiger reserves are currently shut for the monsoon. According to official figures,reserves in Madhya Pradesh had over six lakh tourists in the last peak season,which comes after the monsoon. In hotspots such as the reserves of Pench,Kanha and Bandhavgarh,62,52 and 37.5 per cent of the core areas respectively are traditionally zones of heavy tourism. Tiger reserves such as Ranthambore in Rajasthan,Mudumalai in Tamil Nadu and Corbett in Uttarakhand too have a large number of tourists.

“We are estimating an overall fall of around 25 per cent as of now. But in the parks where core areas are used majorly,the footfalls might cease entirely. Because without the core,tourism has no charm left,” Singh said.

The state tourism wings of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have not stopped bookings for the upcoming season because there is no official communication yet from their respective governments to do so. “Our government will study the order and then instruct us accordingly,” said D K Bishnoi of Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation. “But an order might come any day now.”

The National Tiger Conservation Authority has proposed a set of guidelines for states to develop responsible “eco-tourism” in the protected areas,including tiger reserves. The guidelines keep core areas out of bounds,as is the law.

The NTCA has proposed a “conservation cess” on tourists and service providers around the parks for the development of eco-tourism infrastructure and aid the overall wildlife conservation efforts. But the fate of the guidelines,submitted in the Supreme Court,depends on the final judgment. The Environment Ministry is circulating copies of the interim judgment among states for their replies within the stipulated period.

Those who own lodges outside the tiger reserves — a number of their owners are wildlife conservationists — have been claiming that tourists,along with guards and guides,act as the eyes and the ears of any drive against poaching.

In Mudumalai tiger reserve, nearly 200 jeeps that usually take tourists sightseeing have been lying idle since the interim order,a PTI report said. Nearly 200 shopowners in villages and towns under the reserve protested against the order by downing their shutters for a day last week.

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