Tiger Tourism Ban In India Lifted

Tiger tourism resumes in IndiaIn 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]

India Imposes Temporary Ban On Tiger Tourism

tigerThe Supreme Court of India has placed a temporary ban on tiger tourism, closing India‘s tiger parks indefinitely as they look into a claim that ecotourism is having a negative impact on the habitat of this endangered species.

The government has been trying to create positive changes in the industry for months now, taking the welfare of these animals very seriously. In fact, six states that did not comply with the count’s April mandate to identify core and buffer zones of their tiger reserves were fined 10,000 rupees (about $178).

According to the World Wildlife Fund, India is home to 1,706 tigers – the world’s largest population. However, the number of tigers has decreased from more than 100,000 in the beginning of the 20th century, due to poaching and habitat encroachment.

So, why is this happening? Toby Sinclair, vice president for the Ecotourism Society of India, told CNN he believes the government is allowing too many visitors into the parks.

“The eco in ecotourism has changed to economy,” he says.

Shashanka Nanda of New Delhi, a wildlife enthusiast and photographer, also has an opinion. He believes that, while the court’s heart is in the right place, its not going about the situation the right way.

“Responsible and regulated tourism forges a human connection to wildlife. Just seeing tigers in textbooks won’t affect people to change,” he said. “If you stop tourists and enthusiasts, you’re losing half the battle of wildlife conservation.”

Worried about the future of tiger tourism? The court’s final ruling will be decided on August 22 of this month.

[Flickr photo via Keith Roper]

Travel Trend: Jaguar Spotting In Brazil

jaguarWhile tiger tourism is still the most popular type of cat viewing, there is another trend that is on the rise: Jaguar spotting. For those who have already watched tigers in their natural habitat – and even for some who have not yet had the pleasure – traveling to see wild jaguars is becoming a must-have experience.

There is a big difference in spotting tigers and jaguars, nonetheless. While tiger tourism features many reliable viewing spots, jaguars are much more elusive. However, this also means that actually spotting one is a great achievement.

At the moment, the most reliable place to spot jaguars is Puerto Jofre on the Cuiabá River in the Pantanal, Brazil. Luckily, the chances are pretty high, as there are 50 to 100 habitual cats. Other places where jaguar spotting is possible include Guyana, Peru and the Brazilian Amazon.

“We’re finding a growing interest in South America‘s National Parks,” explains Catherine Strong of Naturetrek, a company offering wildlife tours around the world. “Jaguars in particular, but also in the wealth of other iconic large mammals that can be seen in the Pantanal. The number of clients booking our dedicated Jaguar watching tour has more than doubled since we first offered the tour in 2009, and bookings to Brazil’s Pantanal has increased six-fold during the same period.”

History

The area wasn’t always prosperous with jaguars. In fact, at times they were very scarce. It wasn’t until the mid-90′s that ranch owners in the Pantanal decided to try their luck in the tourism business. At this time, they began offering visitors the opportunity to view and photograph these beautiful animals. In effect, these massive pieces of land were offering a sanctuary for the big cats. If this hadn’t happened, jaguar tourism would not be as successful as it is today.

“Back in the 80′s the Pantanal, most of which is not a National Park, consisted of huge cattle ranches. Jaguars were extensively hunted due to them occasionally hunting cows,” explains Allan Blanchard, a conservationist and owner of Wildlife Trails. “If you talk to people from that era they will tell you that, apart from during a hunt, they would not see jaguars for months at a time. Now, it is almost daily.”

Industry Concerns

While jaguar spotting is usually an exciting and worthwhile experience for tourists, there are concerns in the industry.

“I would like to state as a biologist and conservationist that there is a big question to address now, and that is the impact of this increased number of tourists,” says Blanchard. “Unfortunately, there are always a few ‘bad eggs’ who take their boat or vehicle too close to the wildlife, causing unnecessary stress. Because this wildlife viewing is not happening inside a National Park, it is more difficult to regulate.”

In order to help tourists spot more jaguars, many tour companies are using questionable practices. According to Josh Cohen of Wild Planet Adventures, a nature-travel and ecotourism operation, some of these include collaring jaguars so they can be found by tourists, and using radios so guides can notify each other when the big cats are spotted. These tactics result in myriad boats rushing to the area at once, contributing to the habituation of jaguars. However, there is a silver lining in the situation.

“The area in question is mostly visited by ‘do-it-yourself’ tourists because it is at the end of the Transpanteria Road, which, until recently, was accessible by any tourist willing to rent a vehicle,” explains Cohen. “Vehicle rentals are now restricted, and those willing to eschew the lower cost effectiveness of mass tourism will find jaguar opportunities that may cost more and involve more travel and logistics, but will have less impact on wildlife.”

Solutions

In 2001, Cohen visited the Pantanal to conduct research on the subject, avoiding the tourist-heavy Transpanteria Road route and the Puerto Jofre area. Instead, he focused on an area several hours west around the Taiama Ecological Station. One reason is the logistics of getting there are more costly than the average budget traveler is willing to invest, making it less dense with tourists. Furthermore, the area is federally protected and not open to the public or tour operators. However, since the reserve sits on an island in the middle of the river, it is possible to circle the reserve in search of the jaguars. What’s more, spotting jaguars in this less touristy area allows for the viewing of more wild behavior in the animals.

“This is extremely important, as the long-term consequence of habituated jaguars is the loss of authentic, wild behavior, which is replaced by more tame, bored behavior that inevitably results in more conflict with humans. Ultimately, mass tourism practices could turn the Pantanal into a version of the San Diego Wild Animal Park, unless travelers are educated in the value of paying more to preserve, not just wildlife, but to assure authentic wild behavior is maintained through limited interaction and sustainable ecotourism practices.”

The bottom line? Whether you choose to take the more off-the-beaten path route or visit the popular Puerto Jofre, make sure you’re booking with a reputable company. While the trend of jaguar tourism is growing, we wouldn’t want it to die out before it’s reached its peak.

[Photo via the US Fish and Wildlife Service]