Tigers are symbols of power and beauty, the “King of the Cats”. Everyone wants to see one in the wild. But are hordes of visitors hoping for the thrill of getting up close to the lord of the jungle good or bad for India’s wildlife sanctuaries?
“Where there are tigers, there are tourists,” comments Sarath Champati, a naturalist and tourist consultant, in this video about tiger tourism in India. “The bad part is the intense pressure tigers in some of the reserves have come under…too many people, too many vehicles, a kind of unregulated tourism,” he says of scenes of open vehicles filled with excited visitors jostling to get up close to the big felines.
“Tourism is a huge powerful force that allows anyone on the street to connect to wildlife, particularly animals like tigers and elephants,” says Krithi Karanth, associate conservation biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. “What’s happened now with tourists is that there are rules in place, but particularly regulating how tourists behave, what they wear, how they take their pictures, I see huge variations, depending basically on the guide and the naturalist sitting with them.”
Guides Monitor Tourist Behavior
“If you have a very good guide and naturalist the tourists are very well behaved. So it’s not specific to a particular park. It is very much individual-based, so that’s a huge challenge that we have,” Karanth says.
Tighter restrictions on tourism in tiger reserves include limits on how much of a park can be accessed by tourists, how close tourists may approach the cats, and how long a vehicle may linger at a tiger sighting.
Regulating how many people may enter tiger sanctuaries and how long they may remain will go a long way to ensuring that people get to see wild tigers, but not to the point where the animals are harassed, explains Karanth.
India’s parks can generate millions of dollars in tourism revenue per year, which can in turn go toward protecting the wildlife. Tigers can be the big magnets to draw people into the parks, and that in turn can ensure that visitors become more appreciative of the parks as a whole and conservation in general. “The tiger can be the ambassador for the entire Indian wildlife,” Sarath Champati notes.