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Tiger myths

Poachers,not tourists,are to blame for dwindling tiger population. Tourism ban is no solution

Written by The Indian Express |
July 26, 2012 3:25:32 am

There are no two views on the imperative to protect the tiger. However,the Supreme Court’s ban on tourism in core areas of tiger reserves raises questions on how it should be done,and whether a draconian clampdown on tourism is the best way to protect the big cat. The interim order,which is in force till the court finalises guidelines for protected areas,could in effect see an entire reserve being cordoned off from the people.

The order is of a piece with the guidelines drafted by the Union ministry of environment and forests that seek to phase out tourism in critical wildlife habitat in five years. Last year,in an affidavit in the apex court,the National Tiger Conservation Authority too said that core critical tiger habitats should be kept “inviolate” and “only management interventions” be allowed. While the court and the ministry have the tiger’s interest at heart — and it should be so,considering the number of big cats has come down from 100,000 at the turn of the 20th century to a mere 1,700 now — they are holding the wrong end of the stick. And beating the public with it. Tourism is not guilty of whittling down the number of tigers,poaching is. There is certainly a crying need to tone down the aggressive tiger tourism prevalent in certain parks. The number of tourists and the accompanying commercial activities that have sprouted in and around the area too should be regulated and managed. It is the abdication of responsibilities and the lax enforcement of regulations by the government that have forced the court to step in. Things should not have come to this pass.

But conservation does not exist in splendid isolation. The people are and should be made stakeholders in the process. They should be sensitised on everything,from light and sound pollution to waste disposal in tiger habitats; not driven away. They could be the eyes and ears to seek out what is going wrong in these areas. In fact,it was the world outside the Sariska Tiger Reserve that sounded the alarm that the big cat,even a pug mark,had not been spotted in six months. What is needed is a workable balance between the demands of conservation and the pleasure and the edification that nature tourism provides to people. An outright ban is certainly not the glimmer of hope that is needed to break the bleakness of the story so far of tiger conservation in India.

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