India’s Supreme Court has banned tiger safaris in an attempt to stem their extinction. The decision has enormous implications for wildlife tourism worldwide.
Almost all wildlife tourism featuring wild tigers is in India. (A much smaller industry remains in Nepal, and even smaller in Russia.) Although there is a variety of larger mammals in India’s game reserves, tigers are by far the main attraction for foreign tourists. The decision could doom Indian wildlife tourism to its own extinction.
The Supreme Court’s simple decision on July 24 which “banned all tourism activities in the core areas of tiger reserves” followed an April 3 court directive to individual Indian states for wildlife management plans to protect tigers in face of a rapid decline.
The Court was reacting to the fact most of the States had not submitted any such plans. But the likelihood that the decision could be reversed if the States get their acts together is very small.
Few plans were submitted because nobody knows what to do. There is a decline in big cats worldwide that has miffed researchers. Nobody knows how to stem the decline. Nevertheless, the court will revisit its decision on August 22. Most of us do not expect it to reverse this decision.
In Africa as in India more big cats are being documented as having been poached, or more correctly, killed by owners of stock being molested by the big cats. Clever use of modern poisons lacing meat placed out as bait is the principal tool.
But the rapid decline (in East Africa, the lion population is down to around 9,000 from 30,000 twenty years ago) cannot be attributed to poaching alone.
My own feeling is that the increased urbanization of the developing world combined with confusing but rapid global warming changes is clobbering the top of the wilderness food chain. Ranchers poisoning lions to save their cattle is a symptom of this.
In India the issue is even more confused since a tiger skin is worth so much more on the black market than a lion skin. A male tiger can be more than twice the size of a female lion, its fur is much thicker and arguably more colorful. Though the motivation for a tiger killer might be to save his cows, once killed he has acquired a very valuable item easily black marketed for an extraordinary price.
The actual numbers of larger wild mammals in India as in Africa is actually increasing as wildlife management improves and the remaining habitat for them is better protected. But even though the food source is theoretically then increased for the larger cats, their overall habitat may be more stressed as more animals are squeezed into smaller areas.
This can lead to increased territorial fighting and a more rapid transmission of disease. Recently, for example, it was discovered in East Africa by researcher Craig Parker that some of the lion deaths there were attributed to a disease that was sweeping through the buffalo populations. Lions hunted buffalo and acquired the disease themselves.
India’s corrupt and complicated political system leaves open the possibility the court decision will not be fully implemented or at least not very quickly. Tourists also need to be very alert, now, as officials and business owners in some of India’s 600 so-called wild tiger reserves scramble to maintain business.
Ranthambore is one of the most important reserves, with 52 known wild tigers. There were indications recently that officials were going to move older tigers out of its central reserve into a buffer area that they would enclose, large enough that tourists wouldn’t realize when driving into it that it wasn’t the unfenced and open park.
India’s position has worldwide ramifications. The percentage decline and rate of decline of lions in East Africa is not quite as severe as tigers in India, but it’s severe. And what about polar bears in North America? Or walruses? Or even bears in certain parts of Alaska?
In India at least the highest court has decided that tourism contributes to tiger decline, or at least impedes tiger conservation.
To protect wild animals, should tourists be banned from seeing them?
The only way they could protect the tigers, if they are to close down the areas to tourism, is the ensure that there is a well implemented management and protection plan in place with trained and motivated people to patrol and protect the tigers. As soon as people disappear out of the parks the poachers will have alot more room to move. The chance of said plan and team be putting in place is…
The short answer is that safaris to see the tigers should continue. If they are removed from sight, then in a sense they are already gone. In order to raise awareness of the importance to protect the tigers and their environment they need to be seen. People will pay large amounts for the privilege to see them and the proceeds can be used for their protection. I note that the whooping crane, one of the world’s most endangered species, can be seen at the Crane Foundation in Wisconsin.
Quite agree RE urbanization. Why oh why do some religious “leaders” not get that human overpopulation is the real abomination? RE banning tourists from seeing the big cats: are they really thinking “out of sight, out of mind”? Maybe if tourists can’t see the cats in the wild, nobody will notice when they are extinct?
Thanks for bringing up this tough issue, Jim. Maybe I’m biased, but the way I see it is that the only reason there is any wildlife left in East Africa AT ALL is because of tourism. Locals, who are mainly farmers or herders, have very little reason to protect wildlife, and many reasons to want it gone. They regularly have to see their crops raided by primates and elephants, and their livestock occasionally taken as well.
While some African countries certainly see the value of protecting wildlife for it’s own sake, it is largely because governments want the revenue stream from tourism (and the political pressures put on them by large conservation groups) that they have taken action to protect wildlife.
At the same time, I see the threat to the cats, in particular. I regularly see safari vehicles traveling off track to get within a few feet of lions who are taking their much-needed mid-day rest. This causes them to move on, using up energy and advertising their presence to potential prey.
One challenge in Africa will be that there aren’t really “lion preserves” in the way that there are “tiger preserves” in India. All the wildlife is inter-mixed in the parks, so how could you stop “big cat” tourism without limiting wildlife/bird tourism in general?
One thing that would be a relief, though, is that it woud take away the pressure from clients that “if we don’t see a cat, it wasn’t a good safari.”
I am not an expert but I am a tourist. I have traveled on Jim’s tour in Africa, toured on a small ship to the polar bears in Svalbard, and taken a float plane in Alaska to see grizzly bears feed on salmon in the wilderness. I have left only footprints and taken only pictures. I would like to think that the dollars I spent in those regions have a positive impact on the lives of those animals. I have a much greater respect for those endangered species in their wild environments. Zoos may help in the breeding but I hate seeing animals in that environment. Every time I hear of global warming, I think of the 24 hours of daylight I spent watching polar bears in their natural environment on the ice floats.
If people are denied the opportunity to experience first hand the animals they are losing, it will be very difficult to mount any support, financial or otherwise, for their protection. And, one would think the ecotourism dollars these safaris represent would find favor with the government.
At least part of the tourist $$ should be going toward more protection for the animals in the parks. At least that is what we thought when we went to Africa. Not viewing the animals doesn’t solve anything as far as I can see. Safaris help to preserve the animals for the tourists. They need a plan to compensate the farmers for loss of crop or livestock and enforce stiffer penalties for killing the animals. Loss of habitat will never be solved unless the population is controlled.
I TOTALLY agree with the other comments.The animals MUST be seen in their own habitat to continue the interest, support, and compassion that we all feel toward the tigers, lions, etc. Out of sight – Out of mind.
They should not be banned.