Too Many Tigers?! Whose to blame? by Julian Matthews

Excited visitors follow one of India wild tigers in Ranthambhore, now completely habituated to the daily comings and goings of jeeps across their territory. (c) Aditya Singh
Excited visitors follow one of India wild tigers in Ranthambhore, now completely habituated to the daily comings and goings of jeeps across their territory. (c) Aditya Singh


by Julian Matthews

Too many tigers. Sorry did I hear that correctly? Once more ‘Toomany tigers in many tiger reserves now.’ says tiger expert, Dr Qamar Qureshi. This is the conclusion of the esteemed research scientists at the Wildlife Institute of India in late August.

Fantastic. Massive result; a beacon of light burns in the ashes of India’s dwindling jungles. Well done to all those involved and a massive pat on the back.

It was exactly two years ago that tourism was being accused of killing tigers and banned from operating by the high court for three months.  Yet here we are with burgeoning tiger numbers, and booming visitor number going to more and more parks than ever before, and it would seem that tigers are not suffering at all from the hordes of visitors to tiger reserves. Strange? Surely there is a correlation between the two?!

Let’s now look at why it has happened and what I believe are the underlying reasons for this. More government money is being thrown at the problem yes, and figures suggest its costing between US$900 and US$2000 per year, per square km, to support it. There is some excellent park management undoubtedly, better tracking and relocation; and the increasing numbers of villagers being removed from core areas, along with their livestock, which is allowing greater areas of the parks to become tiger friendly territory.

But it’s not only this, for I believe one major and hugely unappreciated, and a still institutionally unloved industry – nature tourism –  is also responsible and can take a lot of credit too and this is why.

Nature tourism creates the economic value that today’s forests need to survive the ravages of agriculture, the depletion of overgrazing, the exploiting of extractive industries and the chicanery of political machinations.

Nature tourism raises the voices of a few protagonists to a great crescendo of concerned stakeholders, turns the media spotlight and a visitors’ eyeballs onto once unloved forests, gets their guardians out of bed every morning, and makes civil servants accountable like no other force can. Importantly it is a massive behavioural change mechanism, turning many rural communities from wildlife antagonists to conservation advocates, creates jobs and enterprises where few were available and where no other prospect exists for these marginal farming communities, buffeted by wildlife conflict, to join the brave new modern India.

India’s nature tourism industry is already providing the very ‘glue’ that makes all the other critical parts of wilderness conservation sustainable in a modern world. It’s by no means perfect and it still needs minimum standard guarantees of sustainability from owners and operators, better land use planning, and a better understanding and partnership with many Forest officers, but it is providing the much needed bonding – the very sticky glue that makes long term forest conservation possible and viable, against a crescendo of calls for its destruction and development.

Yes, tigers cannot survive without their guardians, good management and large enough natural landscapes, but they will not thrive and expand without nature tourism’s invaluable economics, its visitors ‘hearts on their sleeve’ conscience, and its many stakeholders interest and activities.

Credits: Tiger Nation 



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