Conservationists and wildlife tour operators warned Monday that moves to restrict tiger tourism in India to protect the endangered big cats would have the opposite effect.
"Banning tiger tourism would be a disaster," said Belinda Wright, director of the Wildlife Protection Society of India.
"Tourism acts as a conservation tool and also provides income to thousands of people, many of them local to the area of the reserves," Wright told reporters in New Delhi.
Conservationists argue that tiger poaching is more prevalent in areas of low tourism because poachers feel they have less chance of being spotted and caught.
Tourism also provides revenue for locals who might otherwise turn to poaching as a means of providing for their families.
Last year, the Indian National Tiger Conservation Authority proposed phasing out safaris in India's 40 tiger reserves, saying the animals were being "loved to death" by tourists.
The idea was abandoned after protests from wildlife experts and tour operators, but the Supreme Court is considering a public-interest litigation case, which argues that tourism in "core" tiger habitats should be banned.
Vishal Singh, who heads Travel Operators for Tigers, said the negative impact of tourism on tiger habitats was exaggerated.
"Wildlife tourists carry cameras, not axes. They do not poach, do not submerge forests with dams... They are being unjustifiably blamed for killing tigers," Singh said.
India, home to half of the world's rapidly dwindling wild tiger population, has been struggling to halt the big cat's decline in the face of poachers, international smuggling networks and powerful mining companies.
From an estimated 40,000 animals in India a century ago, the number is now down to around 1,706.
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