By D.V. Kapil (Retd IFS)
Saying that man cannot manage or manipulate the number of animals in this world is not an absolutely truthful statement. Practicing our tested management tools, we can to a certain limit, manipulate the population through a number of activities that may improve or degrade the habitat. Many species, including the mammoth, saber-toothed tigers and cheetahs are now extinct, and the complex process of interdependence went against them. These animals were unable to adapt to the changing conditions of the world they inhabited, and in fact, till a century ago, man himself was not concerned with the concept of environmental or wildlife conservation.
As the situation currently stands, we at least know what can be done to minimize the momentum of the resultant effect of unlimited number of factors acting simultaneously in different directions and with different magnitude. Our efforts may not be sufficient to stop the wheel of nature; however, we can affect the speed. The argument in support of the power of interrelationship of nature, which can change the whole course of life on Earth, can be agreed to without any objection. A number of species might lose ground while others, new ones, may appear on the stage due to the movement of mighty wheel of nature. A new species may replace the tiger and we cannot save the great cat for a long time, if nature chooses that the tiger has to go from a particular habitat, now unsuitable for him, however turned suitable for the other. To save the tiger, we have to save its habitat by arresting further damage and improving the degraded areas in and around all the potential habitats, including forests other than Protected Areas (PAs). This is also true that tiger is the first to suffer when the ecosystem around them starts to erode.
I hope there will not be any disagreement with the facts discussed above. Points of difference could be regarding identification of the main cause of various types of degradation and way of implementation of prioritized strategy of better management. While enumerating major decimating factors a group of experts is of the view that the tourism in core areas of PAs is causing deterioration of the habitat of tiger by creating disturbance, sound pollution and littering with non-biodegradable material. They also claim that the core is main natal area and it must get rest and immunized by ban on tourism activities there.
Let us focus on the points of debate that whether, or not, tourism within the core should be restricted? If yes, why so? I am trying to address all the points, forwarded by a lobby consisting senior foresters, activists, and self-proclaimed wild lifers, environmentalists, and other stakeholders who are needlessly encouraging this controversy. In reference to the argument that tourism is hazardous and creates disturbance to the animals, it is important and pertinent to appreciate and analyse the results of various studies. These results approve that the density of tigers in the tourism zone is either found higher or just near to the non-tourism zone.
The valuable papers and studies, published by a number of scientist and foresters, revealed that there was no adverse effect of tourism in the core. They have found that unsuitable biological causes, fast changing ecological conditions, poaching and habitat loss are responsible for disappearance of a species. However, the group opposing tourism has not explained the statement as to how the serious tourist could be a party responsible for the degradation. I have deliberately used the word “serious tourist”, because, curbing nuisance or irresponsible behavior of any person in our PAs is our job. It cannot be simplified to the extent that let us stops tourism, just because we say that we are unable to handle the visitors. Almost all the objectionable acts related with the PAs are equally applicable in buffer or other areas. For any purposeful restriction, we cannot limit ourself up to core only. If tourism is detrimental in the core and needs to be banned, then it is even more necessary to ban it in the comparatively poor buffer areas.
This observation, used against wildlife tourism, is very important that the PAs are gradually turning into islands, cut off from other degraded big chunks of forests. It is sad that agriculture fields, mines, villages, towns and hotels are blocking the corridors for safe movements of the animals surround the Pas. My question is that who is responsible for this scenario? It is also alleged that the lodge owners have purchased land from poor local farmers at quite high rates and this act has created an imbalance in local economy. Whose fault is this? The question why the FD or the governments did not purchase the crucial corridors falling in between the Pas must be asked. Why did the wildlife managers not visualize the grim situation and appreciate the importance of such critical areas accordingly?
In this reference, I have a very suitable example to offer. I proposed a very small patch of forests, rich in biodiversity and a very critical corridor for declaration of sanctuary. The proposed area, like a chicken neck, connects large habitats and PAs on both of its sides. The local MLA and Cabinet Minister in the Government of Madhya Pradesh (later the Forest Minister) was convinced. It was a rare phenomenon where a local politician was active for declaring another sanctuary in his constituency. Astonishingly enough, the top officials were against this, and did not allow the proposal to reach the State Government. The minister had to invite attention of the Central Government and also WII Dehradun. The team from WII endorsed my view and highlighted the need of conservation and ecological importance of the area. In spite of all the bogus objections raised by the Forest Department, this area was notified as Singorgadh Sanctuary in Damoh district of MP. This glaring example is enough to show how we work and how do us take decisions under influence of personal whims. Proposing ban on tourism is another whimsical thought.
It is found that small population in fragmented or isolated landscapes does not respond to even best managerial inputs. It is also alleged that areas surrounding PAs are being managed for timber production and the policy makers shy away from the real issues like taking care of corridors. As foresters, we go into the forests for a day to come back in the evening or a very sincere officer may stay for a couple of days limited to his jurisdiction. Similarly, a scientist may stay in the forest for a longer time at any point of time. He can give opinion about that area under study, however he is not aware what the scenario of other forests is.
I was lucky enough to be part of a study through a 45-day long journey, where we walked each day, cross-country, through the forests of MP, measuring all possible potential areas, which used to sustain or can even now sustain tigers. We found that all other areas, including PAs that are not frequently visited by tourists, are devoid of tiger and its prey base population. It was noticed that Churna of Bori sanctuary had been a good destination for sighting in the past when this area looked alive by frequent visits of the officers of Forest Development Corporation and Sanctuary staff, including a small number of tourists. Now the area is under management of Satpuda National Park. The park has focused on Madhai as tourist zone. The result is that the Churna Zone now looks deserted. It appears as if animals could learn and migrated to a tourist zone. We missed those big herds of sambhar, chital and gour once seen in abundance. Noradehi and Singorgadh sanctuaries of Damoh, appeared to be in the worst possible conditions. Here, the habitats have been damaged beyond repair. Even the situation in the areas of Tamia, buffer around Satpuda, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench (except Rukhad) and Panna (covering Chhatarpur forests) NPs was hopeless. Cautiously holding any bias or prejudice in check, I want to reproduce the very soul of the whole concept of conservancy and strategy behind enjoyment of people in tiger projects in India. The part below is based on excerptions from the commandments drafted by all eminent professionals.
To be concise I have tried to avoid the reproduction of the documents but have used them here in true and honest context. In response to the provision of one and foremost goals promulgated in the task force Reports it is highlighted that “To preserve for all times, area of such biological importance as a national heritage for the benefit, education and enjoyment of people”. Does it not mean that the areas of parks were first for the benefit, education and enjoyment? Now a group of people is undermining the very idea of the birth of PAs. There is no moral, scientific or well-considered right to re-invent this concept. There is also no force of law to deprive the well defined right of people.
A caveat on recreational use imposed in the Report that long term conservation of biotopes does not allow sterilization of PAs as far as human use is concerned is also sufficient to keep a reasonable place of tourism as entertainment and education. The caveat is complementary to the principle object of management. The activities of commercial felling, collection of MFP, mining, excessive traffic, and heavy grazing by domestic livestock in the PAs, shall take priority for conservation of the biotope. This makes clear that we instead of focusing the most detrimental issues such as those enumerated above, especially heavy grazing most prevalent everywhere in our all forests, we have started cursing an activity, which has been helpful in bettering management. If any wildlifer thinks that ‘excessive traffic’ can be stretched to include tourism, it is not fair as this word has been for uncontrolled mass tourism or religious crowed that erupts beyond our control. Here lies a clear warning against any type of ban on tourism. However, this does not mean that we are in favor of unmanageable crowds of irresponsible tourists.
As far as the provisions of National Wildlife Action Plan, 1983 are concerned; its emphasis on regulated, low-impact tourism has the potential to be a vital conservation tool as it helps win public support for wildlife conservation is very effectively appreciated at appropriate priority. It exists for the parks and not parks for the tourists, and revenue, not matter how valuable it is for helping management. Revenue earning may not be the main goal but it becomes vital issue when states are not providing even minimum required money for conservation and protection.
Is this caution giving rise to the thought of banning tourism? It is like putting a ban on food, rather that advising people to avoid overeating for the sake of better health. The policy document NWAP1983, has very rightly acknowledged the importance of regulated low-impact tourism as vital conservation tool. However, by debating in favor of tourists, we don’t argue a shift of the paradigm at second part. It has been admitted in the document that it is natural and legitimate for the tiger reserves in India to permit recreational use in a strictly controlled manner.
The hypotheses about the mysterious disappearance of tigers from Panna NP it happened because the park had only a few females, out of which some were killed and others except one migrated to better habitats, and the males too moved out behind them, may be nearer to a theoretical model however, this was not that simple case. Firstly, this hypothesis does not explain why there were only few females to begin with. The park administration never noticed this abrupt fall in female population succeeded by males, and that too in a very short span of time. Degradation of habitat cannot be as fast as it can push away the whole population.
The migration of a male, caught in Damoh Forests, cannot be attributed to induce movement of a tiger to better habitat. The habitat of Panna NP was much better than Damoh. The area traversed by this lone tiger was in no way better than Panna. On the other hand, it is surprising that luckily he could survive a number of serious threats of all types during his voyage. His route was devoid of prey, water, and safe corridor. I don’t know why this tiger chose to go stray. Maybe, once he came out of the park, he could not go back due to some disturbance at that point of time, and he was compelled to proceed further beyond. This is an instinct and not unnatural. Animals do migrate for numerous reasons; natural instinct is one of them, apart from a search of mate and better habitat.
The areas of the NPs and Sanctuaries, which attracted potential tourism were included in to Project Tiger (Now National Tiger Conservation Authority) in 2006, and have received legal status of a separate category of PA with two distinct management units: a core and a buffer. In most of the cases, the original area of the PA was declared as core and new areas were added around the core as buffer. This legal change, only by a notification, does not mean that the cores have suddenly lost their potential to support the load of tourism that they were once capable of handling.
Another argument forwarded against tourism is the threat emerging from unplanned and unregulated fast growth of tourism infrastructure around PAs, choking corridors, and dispersal possibilities due to expanding villages, roads, canals, mines, industries, hotels, lodges, fencings, and constant source of pollution and depletion of ground water, etc. In this context, I would like to ask a very pertinent question that who permitted these private players to close the corridors and choked dispersal possibility and who prevented the wildlife management to acquire the land that was purchased by the hoteliers and lodge-owners? Failure of management and lack of foresightedness of the policy makers do not authorize us to resort to ban tourism in the Parks. It is admitted that increasing and unrestricted use of local resources such as land, ground water and firewood has adverse effect on social and ecological aspects. However, it is important to mention here that the tourism industry is also well aware of the situation and has already begun to address various issues. Organizations like Travel Operators For Tigers (TOFT) take care of almost all the points that are expected and need to be implemented by the tour operators, hoteliers, lodge owners, guides and all others. After inspection by experts, TOFT awards a Certification to such hotels and lodges that strictly follow environmental standards and other eco-friendly conditions laid down by the board of the organization.
Instead of imposing ban on tourism, wildlife managers can exercise certain such necessary control measures to ascertain a particular level of responsible behaviour. Offering a “Tiger Show” is a voluntary offer from the park management. No sensible tour operator is in its favor and recommends an instant ban on this. The tourism industry should not be blamed for such irresponsible behavior. Different models suggested by our learned managers are very useful addressing various management objectives including PPP, ecotourism and augmenting social, environmental, ecological and economic fronts.
The Way Forward
The younger generation of forest officers and wildlifers need to know history of wildlife conservation in India. In the early seventies, there were three major institutes, NFRC, SFRC and IFC in India, imparting training to forest officers. Although the training syllabus and curriculum included more than a dozen of subjects, there was nothing on wildlife. Our focus was on lumbering and protection of forests. Officers passing out from these colleges were trained in forestry only. There were few PAs notified as NPs and Sanctuaries enjoying the legal status only and almost no managerial input.
Today’s forest officers working as wildlife professionals should not forget the days when their predecessors were ignorant about the science of wildlife. It is wildlife tourism itself that slowly gained popularity and the enthusiastic tourists taught us the basics of management. The hunters-turned-conservationist
Now imposing ban on tourism means removing the same ladder through which we climbed to this stage of knowledge and management practices. Opposing wildlife tourism in core areas (as buffers are generally unsuitable to tourist’s interests) means killing tourism itself. There are NGOs and tour operators, guides and enthusiastic wildlifers who are capable of teaching and and explaining the complex issues of wildlife and there is no doubt they have learnt all this from these open universities of knowledge of nature and natural resources.
About the Author
Mr. D.V. Kapil joined the Indian Forest Service in 1969, His training in forestry was at Dehradun (Uttarakhand, India). Mr. Kapil started his first post in the remotest of forests of a tribal state, Bastar (now in Chhatisgarh state). He has authored two award winning books, one a text book on Wildlife Management and second a book on Animal behaviour.
He has been a recipient of many distinguished appointments with politicians, bureaucrats and leading the Madhya Pradesh State Forest Service Association. He has successfully hand raised tiger and leopard cubs at home when in his service and is a very well respected and loved by many in his field. He retired on 30 Nov 2006 from the Indian Forest Service Madhya Pradesh Cadre.
Wild Navigator would like to thank Mr. D. V. Kapil for contributions to this post.