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]

Brazen Poaching Of Rare Rhinoceros Species In India

poaching, rhino
Two recent poaching incidents reveal the dangers faced by India’s rare animals, even when they are supposedly under protection.

The BBC reports that a one-horned rhino was shot in Assam when it wandered out of Kaziranga National Park. Poachers took its horn but the animal did not die. Park staff are now trying to save it. The park is home to about two-thirds of the world’s population of one-horned rhinos, which number in total fewer than 3,000 individuals. Thirteen of the animals have been poached in the park in the past nine months.

On the same day, the BBC reported the poaching of a tiger in a zoo. Poachers entered the Itanagar zoo in Arunachal Pradesh and hacked a female tiger into half a dozen pieces before being scared off by the security guards, who had been away eating dinner.

The Times of India reports that several employees have been fired over the zoo incident. No arrests have been made in either crime.

Poaching is a major problem in many countries because of the high demand for animal parts as trophies and for use in traditional medicine.

[Photo courtesy Mandeep Singh]

Indian government relocates villagers away from tiger reserve

tiger reserve
The village of Umri in Rajasthan, India, is no more.

The entire population of 82 families, some 350 people, has been relocated because the village stands inside the Sariska tiger reserve, the BBC reports. The move aims to protect the local tiger population, which is rebounding after being wiped out by poachers several years ago. This reflects a gain in tiger population nationwide after stronger efforts against poaching and mitigation efforts with local human populations.

Tigers are feared by the villagers, who not only worry for themselves but their livestock. Often villagers will hunt or try to poison tigers that come into their neighborhood. Humans also compete with tigers for land and wildlife.

Umri is the second village to be moved and all eleven villages in the reserve will eventually be relocated. The Indian government says the villagers are being compensated with free land, livestock, up to one million rupees ($20,241), and are being relocated as close as possible to their old homes.

The case highlights the problems facing conservationists worldwide. Human needs have to be balanced with those of the endangered animals, and doing that can be a tricky business. Relocating villages is a difficult and expensive task, and what will be done with the two national highways that pass through the park remains to be seen.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Safari on a budget: Tracking tigers and rhinos in southern Nepal

Nepal tigers

The tigers lurked just out of sight. As we ambled through the dense Nepalese brush atop a lumbering elephant, we steadied our gaze for the minutiae of the jungle. We inspected the crevices of our visibility, focusing near and far, eager to catch glimpses of wild creatures doing wild things. Shifting left and right with each elephantine step, we clutched our splintery wooden seats perched precariously on the back of the world’s largest land mammal, looking for the world’s most elusive – the Royal Bengal Tiger.

We caught muddy rhinos bathing in shadowy watering holes. Peacocks strutted out and disappeared in a flash of color to the other side of our path. Monkeys swung above our heads. A Samba deer stopped to stare at us just feet from our shifting perch, skittishly retreating when our elephant grabbed a bundle of branches and effortlessly snapped them to the ground with his powerful trunk to clear our path. The tigers were illusory, hidden from our sight. Our mahout cackled, “It is okay if you no see tiger. But just remember tiger sees you.”

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And indeed, one of the jungle’s most dangerous man-eaters probably peered out at us on that steamy afternoon. Either from deep in the elephant grass or from a dense undergrowth near the gray wrinkled foot of our beastly carriage, a tiger probably tracked us for a few minutes, sizing up the possibility of a hunt. It is said that a tiger is a thousand times more likely to see you than you to see him. This terrifying statistic is never far from the minds of the Nepalese that live and work in these tiger hunting grounds.


Nepal tigers

The Chitwan jungle of Nepal is one of the world’s largest havens for tigers, and the locals truly fear the man-eating feline. And for good reason, almost ten people are killed annually. Ten years ago, a single Bengal Tiger went on a rampage, killing six in just a weeks time. Also, in an unlikely tale seemed plucked from the annals of fiction, a single tiger called the Champawat Tigress killed 436 Nepalese and Indians in the early 20th century. The beast was eventually tracked and killed by big game hunter Jim Corbett. Appropriately, a divergences of opinions form over the predatory creature. To the excited traveler, a glimpse of the endangered feline is a paramount safari experience. The locals, justifiably, feel differently about it.

When we met our local guide, we asked the question, “Will we see tigers today?”

His buzzkill response — “hopefully no.”

What is Chitwan?
While most travelers’ conception of Nepal involves treacherous snow-capped peaks and friendly Sherpas, Nepal’s southern region provides a range of low altitude outdoor activities such as cycling, rafting, and embarking on safari. At the heart of the southern Nepal experience is Chitwan National Park – the original Nepalese national park and home to a wide range of birds, mammals, and reptiles.

The term Chitwan means “heart of the forest,” and the Chitwan National Park lives up to this billing. Established as a world heritage site in 1984, the jungles of Chitwan are straight out of Kipling’s Jungle Book – stocked with tigers, monkeys, sloth bears, leopards, and lots of rhinos. The park originally served as a gaming reserve for Nepal’s feudal elite. The ruling class would camp out in the reserve during the winter months, sniping the bounty of the forest. As sensibilities shifted in the 20th century, the park was re-purposed as a nature preserve.

Nepal tigers

Safari Options and Experiences
While the tiger is in the back of everyone’s mind in Chitwan, the elephant is front and center in many activities. On safari, it is possible to climb onto the back of a pachyderm, providing better nature viewing opportunities from the vantage point atop the towering giant. Searching for tigers and other wildlife on elephant is perfect for a number of reasons: the other animals do not feel threatened by the elephant’s presence, the height allows views over the tall grass of the Chitwan plains, and the elephant can make its own path by breaking branches and powerfully forging ahead through dense jungle. Also, riding elephants — very cool.

Elephant safaris cost around $17 per person, and the Chitwan park permit costs about $5 per day. Afterward, pay just $6 for the opportunity to hand-wash a hard working elephant with scrubbing stones in the cool river outside of Sapana lodge. It is an unbelievably resonant experience that costs about the same as a morning matinee in the states.

Nepal tigersFor brave jungle travelers, a nature walk is an exciting way to spend a day. A local guide provides direction, information about plants and animals, as well as “defense.” The “defense” is a very meager stick that will cease to inspire any legitimate feelings of safety. The possibility of being charged at by rhinos or trampled by wild bull elephants will not be quieted by the guide’s stick, but plenty of trees provide an ample measure of safety in retreat, provided you can climb well. During our stay, a young American couple angered a male rhinoceros and he charged at them, forcing them to climb a nearby tree and stay put until he tired of the endeavor. A nature walk costs around $23 for a full day of trekking. Expect to see a few rhinos, wild elephants, gharials, crocodiles, monkeys, and birds – lots of birds.

For around $14, travelers can also take a dugout canoe down the Rapti River, observing wildlife such as marsh muggers and kingfishers along the banks en route to the Sauraha elephant breeding center. The elephant breeding center is filled with elephants of all ages, and if you are lucky, maybe a baby elephant will be present. The elephants are all owned by the government of Nepal.

Several other awesome activities exist, check here for details and pricing.

Lodging
While African safaris easily scale into the five digit range, a safari in Nepal can be done with budgetary finesse. Lodging can be found for just $25 – $40 per night at mindful and relaxing resorts such as Sapana Lodge. Local park fees are just $5 per day. Meals should never cost more than a few dollars. Sapana Lodge is a great choice in Chitwan because it is affordable, and they assist the local Tharu community with micro-finance initiatives and employment. Sapana encourages their guests to explore the cultural aspect of Chitwan by visiting villages and interacting with the indigenous Tharu settlers of southern Nepal. Living in these wetlands for a very long time, the Tharu have built up a scientifically baffling resistance to malaria.

There are several lodges within the Chitwan National Park boundaries as well, such as Chitwan Jungle Lodge.

Tigers and company
Chitwan is home to a number of large mammals, including tigers, clouded leopards, binturongs, elephants, rhinos, and even honey badgers. When visiting the park, it is all but guaranteed that travelers will witness wild rhinos and other animals, but tigers are tough to track down. With that said, tiger sightings occur often enough, and the odds of viewing one are better than in other tiger hot spots such as Laos or Sumatra. The best time to search for tigers is in the Spring months when the elephant grass has been cut short by villagers.

Unfortunately, during my summer expedition, no tigers were seen over a three day period. The day before my arrival, a Singaporean couple were creeping through the jungle in the early morning light on the back of an elephant. As the elephant crashed through an especially dense thicket, a tiger slowly stalked across their path. I returned to this story for hope throughout my stay, and now its gravity tugs me towards the subcontinent to track tigers again.


nepal tigers

How to get there
Chitwan National Park is located just four hours south from Kathmandu in the Terai region. From Kathmandu, it is a thrilling ride, as all commutes in Nepal tend to be, and provides stunning vistas around nearly every bend in the road. Reaching Chitwan by tourist bus from Nepal’s capital costs around $6, and an A/C private car will cost at minimum $80.

To reach Nepal, one must first land in the capital city of Kathmandu. Flying to Kathmandu is cheap from locations such as Dubai and New Delhi on Fly Dubai and Air India respectively. Also, flights from Bangkok exist on Thai Airways, though they are not as budget conscious.

All photography by Justin Delaney

Bengal Tigers to get special protection

Bengal tiger
The Royal Bengal Tiger and other animals are to get special protection from the government of Bangladesh.

The government is setting up a 300-member force to patrol the areas where the endangered tigers live. This is in reaction to recent poaching incidents targeting the tigers and well as other animals such as turtles and crocodiles. The poaching and smuggling of animals is a major international problem. There’s a huge demand for rare animals as pets, decoration, food, and as ingredients in traditional medicine. Many of the animals most in demand, like tigers and rhinos, are endangered.

Most of the Bengal tigers in Bangladesh live in the Sundarbans, a huge mangrove forest straddling the India-Bangladesh border. It’s designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its incredible variety of wildlife and is an important tourist draw for both countries.

[Photo courtesy Paul Mannix]