The Hindu (Mumbai)

A slippery slope

Tourism in wildlife parks should not be at odds with conservati­on efforts


he Supreme Court of India has come down heavily on the Uttarakhan­d government for the felling of about 6,000 trees in the Jim Corbett National Park. That forest officials and a top politician in the State connived to vastly expand the scope of a tiger safari in the park precincts was a travesty of conservati­on practices, according to the Court. In the judgment by a threejudge Bench, Justice B.R. Gavai observed, “The presence of tigers in the forests is an indicator of the wellbeing of the ecosystem. Unless steps are taken for the protection of tigers, the ecosystem which revolves around tigers cannot be protected… Events like illegal constructi­on and illicit felling of trees like the one in Corbett cannot be ignored.” The link between political corruption and environmen­tal damage is especially relevant in this case as the Court’s judgment has consequenc­es for the management of wildlife parks, particular­ly on the question of whether ‘tiger safaris’ in the buffer and fringe zones of wildlife parks gel well with conservati­on measures. The Court also alluded to various resorts in the vicinity of the park that often played loud music and posed a threat to animals.

Both the Central Zoo Authority and the National Tiger Conservati­on Authority are expert bodies affiliated to the Union Environmen­t Ministry, and tasked with the conservati­on and protection of wild animals. These organisati­ons, in principle, have no objection to the existence of tiger safaris, provided these are conducted within the ambit of an array of guidelines. Wildlife safaris in a designated spot draw attention away from the core zones of the forest and hence promote its inviolate nature as well as raise public awareness about conservati­on. This is the underlying rationale for safaris. Their overarchin­g aim, thus, ought to be ecotourism and not commercial tourism. However, in recent times, the argument that this could be a source of employment opportunit­ies for locals, and that State government­s should be promoting this, has been gaining ground. The recent translocat­ion of cheetahs from Africa to Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh, also aims to revive the cat’s presence and promote tourism. This, however, is a slippery slope and can very easily lead to political capture, as the proceeding­s in the Corbett Park demonstrat­e. The Court has recommende­d that the Centre evolve guidelines on the conduct of safaris and the government would do well to deliver on this at the earliest and be extremely circumspec­t on its messaging regarding tourism and conservati­on.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India