This is regarding my weekly column in The Pioneer, dated 1st August 2012.
Here are some clarifications towards the points raised:
First, as far as the headline is concerned, I agree, it does not reflect the article and is sensational – but it is not given by me, the concerned editor controls that – and I have communicated my concerns to them.
Nowhere have I supported a complete ban on tourism from core areas. Nor do the guidelines say that, as they allow for a part of the core, largely the traditional routes of tourism to allow visitors subject to regulation. I believe –– and this is clearly stated in my article –– that tourism is an important conservation tool, as it plays an educational and inspirational role and is key to winning allies and public support for conservation. I also believe that tourism must be the economic mainstay of communities dwelling on PA fringes, so that they support the park.
At the same time, tourism cannot continue to go on in the way that it had been going on until now. There is a need to regulate, restrict tourism, and ensure that it’s in sync with nature. We have to look at newer models of tourism – as I said in the column, the long term visionary solution is to expand tourism outwards where locals, farmers etc. who bear the brunt of conservations have a participatory stake in the process.
As far as issues with returning a small part the buffer to the wild are concerned: While it is true that some land in buffer zones of several tiger reserves is privately owned, a proportion in buffer is usually reserve forests or other such government status and if this is restored to the wilds, or protected, it will only make the area more secure, and give better protection against projects like mining etc., which have grave impacts on wild habitats. There is a reluctance on the part of states to declare buffers or Eco-sensitive zones to serve these interests. If there are site-specific issues of some parks, then let’s address them.
I do not quite agree that tigers are vanishing from everywhere but the prime tourism zones, including buffer zones. In the first place, these areas flourish because of years of conservation effort. Yes, there are tigers in reserves where there are tourists, but there are tigers in other areas too. Paterpani in Corbett, where no tourists go – has an equal density of tigers than in non-tourism areas. Valmiki is stabilising – because of intense conservation efforts, even though their aren't tourists. The southern core of Similipal –– which has been completely off limits to tourism since the 1980s –– is the only part of Similipal where tigers are stable and breeding.
I have not equated the Panna catastrophe with tourism –as you well know, I have documented the official apathy in Panna time and again.
However, it is also a fact that tourism being there did not have a policing impact, it cannot unless it is accompanied by effective protection – supported by strong NGOs, conservationists etc., who build pressure and work with authorities to bring about that effective protection.Yes, again as stated in the article, tourists-outsiders- a third eye -increases accountability.
Coming to the question of local livelihoods, a small percentage of the income from hotels and resorts trickles down to the communities. The tenets of ecotourism advocate that the income generated from ecotourism should be with the local communities and the park itself. Yet how many, what percentage of local communities are owners or partners in the business? In Ranthambhore, there was for years a wider programme which involved capacity building, providing alternate means of livelihood etc., which has helped build a model that is more equitable.
We know it is the local people who bear the brunt –in terms of livelihood, and conflict. Which is why we are losing support for the tiger and parks – and which is why it is important that we have ecologically sustainable models of tourism that are the mainstay of the local economy.
If the funds from tourism are being ploughed back into the park and local communities in MP, it is perhaps the only state that this is being done. Also, it is something we need to study, and adapt similar models if it is comprehensive and suitable.
As regards South Africa, there is no one model in SA, there are various models; good ones (like the Rwanda model) but also canned hunting; though I know none of us, are not advocating that. Sure, there are some practices we can adapt, but to blindly advocate the SA model, when there are fundamental differences does not seem sensible. We have to evolve our own India-specific models.
Lastly, I would like to say that I have always stressed that the real threat to wildlife is not from tourism, but from mines, highways and other infrastructure that are tearing apart tiger habitats and landscapes by the day. This one is a very tough fight, given the various pressures--from the highest office. Unfortunately, these do not draw the kind of attention that the issue of tourism draws. (and direct killing, the other big worry))
All of us here care for the tiger and wildlife and and I hope, and am sure that we reach common ground to continue to battle for its future.