An interim top court order banning tiger tourism in core areas of reserves has evoked sharp reactions from conservation enthusiasts and wildlife tour operators. Some views:
Belinda Wright, executive director, Wildlife Protection Society of India
“It is a sad day for wildlife lovers, tigers but a good day for poachers. It is not a step forward for tigers. By banning tourism in core areas, you are banning the most important tool of monitoring in these parks. Tourists are the eyes and ears of wildlife.
“In Africa, Rwanda and the world over, tourism in wildlife sanctuaries is a way of protecting and monitoring wildlife. Here we are doing exactly the opposite. Sad day indeed.”
The court order will spell disaster for the Sariska tiger reserve, said D.V. Durrani, the founder of the NGO Sariska Tiger Foundation.
“One observation is tigers are found only in tourism areas. Mostly wildlife lovers come to the parks, hence a kind of patrolling is done by them. Most tiger and cub sightings in these parks are through tourists,” he said.
“When the parks are closed for the monsoon, do you ever hear of such sightings? But you hear of poaching, wood-cutting etc. Tourism can help save tigers.”
Sariska, the 881sqkm reserve in Alwar district, had made headlines in 2004-05 when its big cat count fell to zero. Now, it has two tigers and three tigresses.
Located about 110km from Jaipur, Sariska is ringed by 26 villages and needs constant monitoring against poaching and human interference. There is a temple called Pandupol in the core area of the park.
“How will you stop people from coming to the temple? Even Ranthambore’s Jogi Mahal is in its core area and is widely visited,” Durrani said.
Dharmendra Kandal, a conservationist at Ranthambore National Park, said demarcation of buffer and core areas was of no consequence in this reserve in Sawai Madhopur district. The park has a core area of 274sqkm.
“The notified buffer zones like Seothi Dharampuri areas near Chambal river, areas in Bundi district and another patch of land near Banas river are at least 7-10km away. These are separate units and have no link corridors with the actual park. How can they be called buffer zones?
“There are no animals there, not even sambhar or deer. How would tigers go there? Moreover they are encroached areas.”
In 1973, when Project Tiger began, there were barely six to eight tigers in Ranthambore. Now there are 52.
According to a survey, over 1,500 people live in four villages in Ranthambore’s core area and over 3, 000 in 19 villages in the buffer area. There are over one lakh people in 332 villages within a 5km radius of the reserve.
Rajasthan forest minister Bina Kak, however, said: “We will examine and follow Supreme Court directions….”
Madhya Pradesh reacted sharply, with forest minister Sartaj Singh getting set to challenge the interim order in court. “We have some reservations relating to livelihood and tourism industry and we will let the court know about it in the next hearing.”
P.K. Shukla, the principal chief conservator (wild life), said there was need for balance. “Our stand has been to permit tourists with certain restrictions. We have not seen the full text of the order, so I cannot say more.”
The Bandhavgarh forest reserve, spread over the Vindhyas, is one of the biggest tiger tourism hubs having the highest density of big cats. The Panna reserve has about 20 tigers and Kanha some 21-23 tiger cubs. The Pench Tiger Reserve boasts 21 tigers.
Suresh Chand, the chief wildlife warden of Assam, said his team would look into the matter once the final ruling was delivered. “We will have to wait for the final order,” he said.
The warden said in Assam’s three tiger reserves — Kaziranga, Manas and Nameri — hotels and resorts were outside the core area, so there was no immediate problem.
Tourists are not allowed to enter the core areas of the Sunderbans in south Bengal or the Buxa tiger reserve in north Bengal.
A.K. Raha, the principal chief conservator of forests (general), said: “We never allow any tourists to visit the core areas of the tiger reserve in the Sunderbans. This is an exclusive area and no permission is given to anybody to visit.”
Bhaskar J.V, the deputy field director of Buxa Tiger Reserve (East), said: “The entry of tourists into the core area is banned.”
Jim Corbett National Park authorities fear the court order will hit tourism hard as the reserve draws over 70,000 visitors a year and sustains over a lakh families.
Corbett park director R.K. Mishra said the administration was yet to get a copy of the order. “We will go through the order before coming up with a different plan,” he said.
The park, which allows tourists in its core areas, has been closed for the monsoon since June 15 except in its southern fringe area in Jhirna.
“We have come to know from the media about the order…” Mishra said. “When the park reopens in November, we have to be ready with an alternative plan.”