India Lifts Ban on Tiger Tourism
With proper management, visitors could help conserve the species
A decision by India’s Supreme Court to ban “tiger tourism” within the country’s forest parks was overturned in October. Now visitors will be allowed to visit 20 percent of the 41 previously forbidden areas, with the stipulation that state governments must present conservation plans that comply with national guidelines within six months.
Approximately half the world’s wild tigers live in India. A 2011 estimate put the species’ number at 1700 individuals. This is a dramatic decline from a century ago, when 30,000 of the cats roamed the country. Recent decades have seen an increase in poaching and a huge fall in numbers. Already this year, 24 tigers were killed by hunters, who often sell the cat's body parts in China for their supposed medicinal benefits. This has been a problem for decades, with poachers believed to have been the reason behind the complete dissapearance of tigers from India's Panna National Park in 2009
Tiger tourism was first banned in July with the aim to protect the increasingly rare species and to force governments to create conservation plans for tiger habitats. The measure was met with widespread disapproval from both conservationists and people in India’s travel industry.
India is one of the few places where visitors can see a tiger in the wild, so wildlife excursions are a good source of revenue. If the industry faltered, it would threaten the livlihoods of tens of thousands of people employed in the sector.
Perhaps the best argument to lift the ban, however, came from conservationists. They reminded the Supreme Court that tourists aren’t a threat to tigers and that poachers were more likely to hunt the cats with fewer people in the parks. In this way, the presence of tourists could both help fund conservation and keep poachers at bay.