BENGALURU: With National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) taking up the issue of stressed-out tigers seriously, activists are calling for regulation in safaris of Bandipur and Nagarahole national parks. Scientific findings, too, reveal an urgent need for increased regulation and tourist education for tourism to be truly beneficial for parks, wildlife and local communities.
At present, Bandipur and Nagarahole parks see heavy movement of safari vehicles and tourists, especially during weekends. Activists say NTCA should come out with regulation on the number of vehicles/tourists allowed for each of these parks to protect the big cats. If the forest department has three vehicles with a capacity of 30 each, Jungle Lodges and Resorts has 7-8 vehicles with a carrying capacity of 7-8 members each. The safari operates from 6-10am and 3-6.30pm.
In some tiger reserves, safari vehicles almost stalk the tigers, disturbing them. Joseph Hoover, former State Wildlife Board member, adds, “Tigers are stressed because of obtrusive tourism. The government should stop the trend of aggressive tourism in the larger interest of conservation. Tourism is welcome, but there should be no place for invasive and destructive tourism. Tigers are severely stressed with people descending in hordes, especially during weekends.”
Regulation is necessary as there is neither tracking nor monitoring of safari vehicles in Bandipur and Nagarahole, says Rajesh Tugbere, wildlife explorer. “Despite having divided the safari into two zones, vehicles tend to congregate in one zone. At a time, some 5-6 vehicles come at one place, disturbing the tigers. In Nagarahole, safari vehicles go to three places – Kabini, Veerahosanhalli and Kutta Gate -- and so many vehicles congregate that tigers have lost their freedom.
However, forest officials deny any heavy rush at one spot, and say efforts are made to control the vehicles and not stress the animals.
After surveying resorts and homestays near 10 wildlife parks in India, scientists from the Centre for Wildlife Studies (CWS) and Columbia University found that tourism is growing rapidly in parks, at an average rate of 15 per cent. Tourist numbers range from more than 5,000 per year in Bhadra (Karnataka) to more than 5,00,000 per year in Periyar (Kerala).
Tourism is considered valuable for conservation and local economies as it generates funds for park management and provides employment. However, this may not always be true in practice, says Krithi Karanth, executive director, CWS. Rules and regulations vary across parks. In some, only forest department vehicles are allowed and in others, private vehicles enter the park. Existing guidelines and regulations for managing tourism, land and resource use need to be consistent for all parks.
Several studies show that unplanned tourism can add to existing conservation challenges in parks, and may benefit very few people. The growth in wildlife tourism presents an important opportunity to engage both rural and urban people in conservation issues and can, for some parks, provide substantial revenues.