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3 août 2012 5 03 /08 /août /2012 07:38


Quelles conséquences réelles ? Sont - elles en rapport avec le but recherché ? (The Hindu, hier...).

If anybody has rights over forest areas, it is the traditional communities that have lived there for generations

In an order that will have far reaching consequences, the Supreme Court imposed a blanket ban on tourism in the core areas of tiger reserves with immediate effect on July 24. The order is up for review within three weeks, but the stage has been set for a period of considerable turmoil in matters related to wildlife tourism, particularly that where the tiger is involved.

There has been wide coverage of the development in the print and electronic media and the virtual world too has come alive with opinions, claims, allegations and counter allegations. A large section of the wildlife conservation community has been quite outraged and this is an important comment on the political economy of wildlife conservation as also of the wildlife tourism industry.

One prominent wildlife photographer who is also hotelier posted a photo of a dead tiger on Facebook with a prominent caption — “Tourism did not kill him — goat herders did.” Other comments have expressed indignation at a situation where villagers will be allowed to stay inside, but tourism will have to leave. It is noteworthy that wildlife conservation and tourism are implicated in an interesting and important overlap of interests. Those wanting conservation of wildlife are increasingly benefitting from it as tourism operators or then as consumers of a wild experience.

Dilemmas, contradictions

The case has been made for a very long time that tourism benefits wildlife because it constitutes non-consumptive consumption of the resource that can also benefit local communities in the process and secondly, that tourist presence denies poachers the chance to get at their quarry. The simplicity of these arguments conceals the fault lines of a situation that is far more nuanced and complex both on the ground as well as in the policy domain.

While conservation has been projected as an important national agenda, there is no denying that in the present paradigm, its majority stake is restricted to a small section of the urban middle and upper-middle class. There is much evidence, in fact, of the hardships experienced by and atrocities inflicted on local communities in the name of conservation. Ironically, the same paradigm is expected to benefit the same people from the same wildlife conservation, albeit through the tourism route. It is unlikely that the math will add up!

The dilemmas, even the contradictions perhaps, are evident, for instance, in an editorial of the business newspaper Mint (“Saving India’s forests,” July 30, 2012). It argues that giving tourists access to forests will ensure their protection and conservation but giving forests dwellers rights under the Forest Rights Act is likely to make them “an instrument for their destruction.” Champati Sarath (“Ban on tourists no boon for tigers,” The Hindu, July 31, 2012), similarly, talks a language of the rights of people (read tourists) to visit national parks. We are failing to account for the fact that these tiger-inhabited landscapes have been peopled by forest dwellers and traditional communities for generations and that they have entitlements and rights here. One of the key pleas of the petitioner, that led to the Supreme Court order in fact, was that no tourism should be allowed in places where traditional communities had been displaced in the name of conservation. The case of the Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu is illustrative. At about the time that the entire country is discussing the ban on tourism in the core of tiger reserves, 19 tribal dominated village panchayats in the Sathyamangalam have been protesting and opposing the tiger reserve for fear of the impacts it would have on their livelihoods.

The larger framework within which all of this operates also needs to be borne in mind — the overall economic paradigm where everything is meant for consumption; where GDP and economic growth takes precedence over everything else, where mining, dams, roads and railways are ripping apart habitats of wildlife and homes of traditional communities. This is a paradigm where even wildlife and conservation is being asked to pay for itself. Banning tourism is, perhaps, not the solution but if the parameters of the debate and the discussions around conservation are themselves not renegotiated, there is unlikely to be much progress.

For many proponents, tourism, if done sensitively, is part of the solution to the many conservation related challenges we face today.

For the moment however, the shoe is on the other foot. The solution has become the problem and the Supreme Court order should be welcomed for the debate it has fostered and a new perspective it could potentially engineer. Whether this results in a wash out or a shake-out depends on how the various stakeholders choose to respond, and in this case the wait in unlikely to be a long one.

(Pankaj Sekhsaria edits the bimonthly newsletter on wildlife, Protected Area Update that is published by the environmental action group, Kalpavriksh. Email: psekhsaria@gmail.com)


...Et le 31 juillet.

Tourism in reserves is not the threat it is made out to be for the world’s most admired animal. In fact, it could serve as a conservation strategy

The recent ban by the Supreme Court on tourism in core areas of tiger reserves in India raises some fundamental questions:

1. Is tourism, however intense, the real culprit behind the killings of tigers and their seemingly low breeding capacity?

2. If after four decades of implementing the Wildlife (Protection) Act, and efforts by Project Tiger and the National Tiger Conservation Authority, tigers are near extinction today, can banning reserve tourism reverse the situation?

3. Can people be denied the right to visit national parks to watch the most admired animal in the world?

Let’s look at the facts on the ground:

1. In most ‘tourism areas’ of reserves, tigers are breeding so well that their numbers are causing problems to reserve managers! The recent example is Tadoba Tiger Reserve and the more celebrated ones are Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh. In these reserves, dispersing tigers are not able to find space or ‘territories’ and are therefore running into conflict with villagers living on the edges of these parks. Nobody is claiming that tourism is increasing the fecundity of tigers, but there is some evidence to show that it is not destroying it.

2. Tourism has given communities living on the fringes of tiger reserves thousands of jobs, which no other industry or the government has.

3. Tiger tourism, as it is described, takes place in not more than 10 of the 41 reserves in the country, so to blame it for the dwindling tiger population is a bit extreme.

It is a fact that resorts outside some of the tiger reserves are causing major problems such as blocking wildlife corridors and causing pollution of all kinds. A case in point is the situation outside the Corbett Tiger Reserve, where about 150 resorts have mushroomed in the past 10 years. This is the ugly side of the so-called tiger tourism, and it definitely needs to be regulated. The scenario inside the reserves, though, is not as terrible as is made out to be.

In the past five to seven years, reserves have begun to regulate the numbers of vehicles and tourists entering the parks; for example, Corbett, Ranthambore and all reserves in Madhya Pradesh have strict limits on the number of vehicles and also have measures such as ‘routes’, and zones to reduce the pressure of vehicles on animal sightings.

I would like to discuss in some detail the Kabini area of Nagarhole Tiger Reserve as a case study on the positive aspects of tiger tourism. Less than 10 per cent of the reserve is used for tourism, and in these 40 sq km the Karnataka government has handed over the responsibility of conducting safari operations to Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR), a State-owned corporation.

This model has been working successfully for almost a year. The number of safari vehicles is limited according to a carrying capacity fixed by the Forest Department at a maximum of 12 every trip. Safaris are conducted twice a day for three hours each.

Tourists are accompanied by trained naturalists who not only give an interpretative experience of the jungle but also enforce the rules and regulations of the park. There is a ‘route system’ in place, by which every vehicle has to follow a previously allotted route, which further reduces the impact of vehicles on animals. There is a very strong emphasis on converting visitors into ambassadors of conservation, which is the ultimate aim of ecotourism. It is these ‘enlightened’ citizens who form a strong lobby for conservation and specifically for saving tigers in our country.

JLR is the oldest ecotourism company in India and has been in operation in Kabini for almost 30 years. The density of tigers in Nagarahole has only improved in these three decades, and it is now among the highest in the country — about one tiger for every 10 sq km!

Another aspect of the Kabini story that needs to be appreciated is the employment of locals in the six resorts in the area and the resultant economic benefits. More than 350 locals are employed in these resorts and they take home a total salary of Rs.40 lakh every month. Further, local purchases amount to about Rs.10 lakh every month. So about Rs.50 lakh is pumped into the local economy every month. What would happen to these locals if tourism is to be completely banned in Kabini?

There is no other employment in these areas. Unemployment may create indirect or even direct pressure on the tigers through habitat disturbing activities, including aiding poachers. It should be mentioned here that proposed tourism in the ‘buffer zones’ is not a feasible idea, as visitors cannot hope to see much wildlife in these areas. It will take a very long time for such areas to be inhabited by wildlife.

The other issue the Supreme Court ban throws up is that ‘critical tiger habitats’ or core areas need to be ‘inviolate’ of all human presence. Tourism that involves a temporary presence of visitors cannot be treated as ‘violating’ the core area. If it is, how are we to stop the thousands of pilgrims visitingtemples in reserves such as Ranthambore, Sariska, and B.R. Hills? And what about the highways that cut through reserves such as Bandipur and Nagarahole?

The Supreme Court will give a final ruling on August 22. Meanwhile its order for a temporary ban is an opportunity for all stakeholders to clean up their act. There are ways by which the court can help. For instance, it should pass strong strictures against illegal construction of resorts. It should see that existing guidelines like compulsory employment of locals are implemented. Instead of an extreme judgement that will ban tourism in tiger reserves completely, let us hope for a more balanced approach from the court in its final order. There are plenty of international examples to show that regulated tourism can serve as a valuable conservation tool. Why not in India?

(Champati Sarath is a freelance ecotourism consultant who is associated with Jungle Lodges and Resorts. He is a founder-member of the Ecotourism Society of India.)


Creating inviolate spaces to help the tiger recover from perilous decline is a recognised goal of conservation policy today. Considering that the habitat of the charismatic cat has shrunk drastically to about one per cent of legally protected land, the Supreme Court order banning tourism in core forest areas is welcome, as it gives the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) pause for thought. The prospect of watching tigers in the wild brings thousands of visitors to nature reserves and generates massive revenues. Such tourists, the majority of them from within the country, are potential ambassadors for conservation. What is not so obvious is the complex interaction involving multiple stakeholders — the park management, the communities living in and around forests and the tourists. Studies conducted between 2002 and 2008, when many new tourist facilities were built, show distinct trends. Notable among these is the alienation of many local residents from touristic activity due to poor income transfers, and loss of tourist interest when tiger numbers dwindle. These important lessons make it imperative for the MoEF, the State governments and the industry to review their approach to tiger tourism. Measures such as identifying viable cores in each reserve, reducing human pressure on better-preserved forests, and creating new buffer lands for tigers to move into, hold the key to healthy cat densities.

Tourism that is primarily dependent on tigers should naturally be anxious about preserving core forests — which hold source populations of the cat. It should be borne in mind that with rising affluence, the number of tourists arriving at sanctuaries and natural parks is on the increase, and sustaining this growth needs innovative strategies. Active protection of buffer forests and even newly-added farm land, and fostering of greater densities of deer, wild pig, bison and other prey will lead to a rise in tiger numbers — and increased opportunities for viewing. Such an approach is essential to absorb more visitors. The experience in high-profile tiger havens such as Nagarahole, Kanha and Ranthambhore shows that support of local residents is vital to successful wildlife tourism. But generally speaking, the number of local people employed and earnings shared by tourism ventures are both low, generating resentment among the communities. The record is better in neighbouring Nepal. Now that the Supreme Court has taken a view, the roadmap for conservation-friendly tourism is clear: the laggard States — Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra — must notify the buffer areas, and the MoEF must draw up a good plan for sustainable tourism in the peripheral forests and reforested contiguous lands.

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