In July of this year, India’s Supreme Court took the bold, and controversial, step of banning “tiger tourism” throughout the country. The move was made to protect the increasingly rare big cats and to force state governments to come up with conservation plans for habitats in which the creatures live. Now the court has reversed its decision, opening the outer 20 percent of 41 national and local parks to visitors, while also giving the states just six months to comply with government mandates for protecting the nation’s tiger population.
When first announced, the original ban was met with widespread disapproval amongst conservationists and members of India’s travel industry. The country is one of the few places on the planet where visitors have the opportunity to see a tiger in the wild and as a result, many people will pay for that experience. According to the Washington Post, bookings had been down prior to the lifting of the ban, which meant less revenue generated from tourism. Quoting government sources, the Post also says that about 15% of India’s tourism is wildlife related.
Perhaps the biggest argument in favor of lifting the ban came from conservationists who reminded the Supreme Court that tourists aren’t a threat to tigers. They also noted that poachers were more likely to prey on the big cats when there were fewer people around and by banning tourism, the government had in fact made it easier for those hunters. With an estimated 1700 tigers still in the wild in India, their numbers are now a fraction of what they once were.
I’m a big proponent of using tourism dollars to support animal conservation, so I was happy to hear that India had lifted this ban. When done properly, tourism cannot just fund conservation efforts, but can also help revitalize endangered species. This has been used to great effect in Africa, where travelers pay a high fee to visit gorilla sanctuaries. But those fees go directly to helping fund protection efforts and as a result, we’ve begun to see a rise in gorilla populations. India could do something similar and help bring their tigers back from the edge of extinction too.
[Photo credit: B_cool via WikiMedia]