The Supreme Court order banning tourism in core areas of all tiger reserves yesterday has left wildlife experts and conservationists disappointed in the extreme. They say the decision may end up benefiting poachers while preventing conservationists from knowing whether the big cats are disappearing from their habitats.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by conservationist Ajay Dubey, who had demanded removal of commercial tourism activities from core or critical tiger habitats in the reserves. The SC was irked that several states, despite its directions on April 4 and July 10, had failed to notify buffer zones in their respective reserves. The apex court warned that if the states failed to comply within three weeks, then the defaulting ones shall be saddled with a cost of Rs 50,000 each, and the amount would be recovered from the Principal Secretary (Forest) of the state concerned.
Wildlife conservationist Anish Andheria said that banning tourism would adversely affect the economy of the region where tiger reserves are located as the livelihood of many people depends on it. “We won’t know if tigers are disappearing from their prime habitats. The government should protect buffer zones so that animal density goes up in these areas and simultaneously phase tourism out of core habitats in the next five to 10 years,” Andheria said. “How will the next generation fall in love with Mother Nature if it doesn’t visit the reserves?”
According to conservationists, tourism is like a checkpoint where most of the tigers are tracked and traced, which in turn helps the Forest Department list the cats. Tiger expert and in-charge of Kaziranga National Park Firoze Ahmed said, “It will have a negative impact on the reserve as tourism has been going on for the past 60 years. Tourists, at times, have been of help and there have been incidents where they have informed us of suspicious activities in the reserve. The government should set rules and regulations for tourist instead of banning them.”
Wildlife experts who have been part of tourism said that villagers who earn their living through tourism might take up anti-social activities in the reserves if they become jobless. “Tiger numbers have improved in the last few years. I wonder how tourism is killing them,” tourist-photographer K Ghadge said.