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Thread: Wildlife Tourism – Reality Bites

  1. #1
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    Default Wildlife Tourism – Reality Bites

    Wildlife Tourism – Reality Bites
    India is a global biodiversity hotspot. Unfortunately, we don’t understand the true value of our natural wealth. We have created National Parks, Sanctuaries, Protected Areas and on the other hand we have the Tribal rights bill taking away scarce forest land from our wildlife. Who are the friends of our forests and its denizens? Sometime back I was discussing this with a wildlife tour operator-cum-photographer and and pat came the answer - Wildlife Tour operators. However, is it so? Does our wildlife tourism sector practice what it preaches – that it is non-consumptive and has minimal impact on the wildlife and wilderness? Let us look at my recent experience in Kabini.

    I was suffering from cough and cold, and in a moment of inspiration, I had driven down to Kabini for a day to recharge my batteries. I had checked into Cicada resort on Saturday, 14th February. I was new to Cicada, though not new to the other resorts in the area. It has all the creature comforts like swimming pool, spa, gym to keep in tune with the profile of its clientele.

    I took three safaris into the park, in the vehicle organised by Cicada (outside vehicles are not allowed in Nagarhole. Only resorts like JLR, Cicada, Waterwoods etc are allowed to ply their vehicles that seat 9 people). On 15th February morning there was a sighting of leopard with cub on a tree. In the evening, at Old MM Road inside Nagarhole we stopped the vehicle on hearing alarm calls by langurs. A leopard was trying to hunt langurs. We could hear the leopard roaring. There was another vehicle apart from our own. Soon one more vehicle reached the spot making it three vehicles waiting for the leopard to come out of the lantana bushes. Another vehicle of Cicada (KL 03 MF8956) reached the spot after being informed over mobile by our naturalist. The vehicle was loaded with foreigners. Some of them had cameras with small wide angle and intermediate zoom lenses.

    My vehicle was in front and when the leopard came out of the bush and surveyed the surroundings, everybody was quiet and waiting. I had my camera ready. Suddenly the other vehicle of Cicada, carrying the foreigners, which was way behind other vehicles decided to go off road and move to the front in a desperate measure to have a better sighting for the foreigners. The vehicle drove like a rally car and sped towards the leopard. The vehicle was about 15 -20 feet off the road. The leopard which was slowly crossing the road got frightened and bolted. The crowd in the vehicle were over excited after sighting the leopard from such a short distance due to the leopard chase.

    It was shocking to say the least. These are the high end tour operators who talk of responsible tourism all the time. But they understand how much will be the returns by breaking the rules. The foreigners are always sought after and given preferential treatment. For them the welfare of the leopard was not important. Had the leopard snarled at the tourists, they would have been happy to photograph it and would have had a field day recounting to the media about their skin-of-teeth escape from the jaws of sure death. There is always a possibility that in such situations, the vehicle could have either injured or killed the Leopard. Though they messed with my leopard experience, I felt more humiliated as they show scant regard for Indians when foreign clients are around. Who says racism is dead? It is thriving and has many supporters in the wildlife tourism sector, as in various other fields one comes across every single day.

    There has to be a cataclysmic change in the attitude in wildlife tourism sector, else the damage done would be irreparable. Let me know your thoughts on this issue, or if any other similar experience you had in the past in our jungles.
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    I had a similar experience in Bandhavgarh. A tigress with two cubs was spotted by us and one of the forest guards accompanying us informed all the safari gypsies in the park. There were some 30-40 gypsies all crowding up to see the family. The cubs got badly spooked and moved into the deeps, the mother got very jittery and got irritated. It was really very frustrating to see how "Eco Tourism" acts entirely as an antipode to Conservation. We missed out on a very wonderful chance to study the maternal behaviour of the tigress. Similar was the case in Ranthambore with a leopard too...
    Regards,
    Bibhav Behera
    www.bibhavbehera.com

  3. #3
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    Default Visitors too are to blame.

    This is an unfortunate reality in almost all of our National Parks/ Sanctuaries where there is heavy tourist pressure. However the question arises as to what causes such behavior. Wildlife tourism in India is disproportionately focused on the big cats. The vast majority of the visitors put a lot of pressure on the guides and drivers to show them one (as if they can conjure up one on demand) and also tip heavily if one is seen. They also make their displeasure very evident when they fail to see one. All this puts a lot of pressure on the guides and drivers. In most cases the pressure is multiplied by managements who have an incentive system based on guest feedback.

    It is upto both the management of the resorts and the visitors to the park to set things right. Unfortunately in most cases the resorts are run by professionals from the hospitality industry who have very little knowledge or concern for wildlife. Naturalists, guides, drivers etc generally do not hold positions of authority.

    However I am happy to state that a beginning has been made by members of the wildlife tourism fraternity to change things. For more details on this please check out this link.

    http://www.toftigers.org/

    At present this is not on an all India level but the plans are there to take it to that level. As a visitor to our National Parks / Sanctuaries I request you all to kindly interact with the managements of the resorts in which you stay and try and impress upon them to follow ethical practices when it comes to wildlife. And also please report any bad behaviour of the naturalists to the management. Wildlife Tourism is a business and only when the markets demand it will the industry respond.

    And to give credit to the Cicada management I am happy to report that disciplinary action has been initiated against the concerned driver and guide.

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    Default Not enough awareness !

    Such incidents are common i suppose. In my short stint with Indian forests I have come across such incident quite a few times. I would like to share once such experience in Tadoba Tiger Reserve. Tadoba is one beautiful forest with healthy population of predators and prey specie.
    I was in the forest in te month of May and summer is the time when most of the water holes inside dry up and animals need to use the artificial takas which are regularly filled by the dept. During my stay there I was lucky to spot one female tigress with her 3 cubs. The family was setup near the taka no. 7. It was around 10 A.M and we spotted the tigress resting near the water hole. we stopped vehicle 30 feet from the mammal for the reason of not disturbing her. we were observing the Tigress for 25 mins and she was not bothered. Our feast was disturbed by a vehicle whcih came fast and understanding the presence of a tier nearby sped beyond us to get a close sighting. In the process the car stopped 5 feet away from the Tigress and thus disturbing her....Tigress went inside the forest within seconds after the arrival of the vehicle.
    After i came back to Bombay i called up the guide to inquire about the Tigress. guide told me that due to constant pressure from the tourist the family had to change their resting place. How can we avoid such incidents?
    Should teh driver be made accountable for this ? or the guide with the vehicle?

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    These incidents are unfortunate and very sad......the culprits are all of them the visitors, guides and driver...all of them should be made accountable....people should be more responsible....already many of our animals are nearing extinction....

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    Default Need to be tackled at Govt level

    - There is no eco-tourism "law" (not interested in policies and guidelines) either at the state level or central level
    - Many chief wildlife wardens of Karnataka do not understand eco-tourism. One of them wrote to the government that "Tigers hunt in the night because of presence of jeeps during the day time" !!!! The Chief Warden does not even know that Tigers are nocturnal cats
    - Cicada Resorts suspended the driver and the naturalist immediately. But yesterday the villagers have landed up and threatened to start an agitation.
    - In this case, it is clearly not racial discrimination. It is clearly the urge to show a cat to the guests. The same would have happened if this jeep had contained indian guests instead of foreigners.
    - The way to tackle is to stop wireless messaging inside parks, allot different routes for different vehicles, educating drivers, guides and the visitors
    - stirct and severe punishment for defaulters

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    We are in an age of instant gratification. As a commodity Time is ever shrinking.

    Savvy entrepreneurs have capitalized on it and created the “weekend safari package”, which wildlife enthusiasts, lovers and wannabes take full advantage of. Just as a visit to Agra is incomplete without seeing the Taj Mahal, the wildlife enthusiasts’ safari is incomplete without sighting the “big cat”.

    Wildlife eco tourism thrives on word-of-mouth recommendations. Pressure is high as expectations are high and time is limited. Add to that the pace of the jungle. Perhaps this creates a heady concoction of unspoken coercion. Tiger Ramesh also pointed out a local perspective to this particular incident, the driver being a local. The plot thickens.

    That the jeep driver was wrong is unambiguous. Cicada has made its intentions clear by its strong action. Members have blamed tourists, officials, wardens, government and skin colour for this. I feel the culprits are probability, economics and time.

    With a tiger density of about 0.5 to 1.5 per hundred sq.km in India (perhaps a bit more for other big cats like Leopard), it is mathematically improbable that we sight a tiger within the “safari weekend” every time. Perhaps better tracking by the naturalists would help. I would even suggest, responsible eco-tourism entrepreneurs like Cicada advertise the expertise of their best trackers (naturalists) and provide their tracking services to enthusiasts at a high premium.

    We need to control the inflow of eco tourists to wildlife parks. Private organizations need to be economically viable; opening resorts in newer territories instead of mushrooming in a few sweet spots might be looked at. Personlly I feel any forest has a threshold for "entertaining" human guests! Looking at other value added services to get revenue should be explored.

    Time. I would like to stress again. For us wildlife enthusiasts, it’s not the jungle that has to sync up to our time constrains, but it’s the other way round!

    Moreover, the jungle has a lot more to offer. Why should wildlife tourism be about Big Cats only, why shouldn’t we be as enthused about other flora and fauna? Here, the resort management has to consciously invest their time and energy in educating its own staff and its guests that every life form in the forest is precious. If they want to sight a Big Cat, they had better invest more time.

    Lastly, Sabyasachi did mention about discrimination. In spite of robust denials, it is true.

    Ultimately, the principle should be of loving wildlife and being responsible; be it brown, black or white. The wildlife entrepreneurs should take up responsibility and drive that change.
    Last edited by Ranbir Mahapatra; 24-02-2009 at 10:31 PM.

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    Default Racial discrimination

    Ranbir, while i agree that some kind of racism does exist, it is more prevalent in some parts of the country where the guides get more gratuities (tips) from foreign guests than their indian counter parts. The amount gets higher if they get to see a "cat".

    The pressure on the large cats are very high because even the promotional materials of Government Tourism Campaigns (large half-page advertisements) , all talk about Tigers only. Take Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Assam and Uttaranchal. All their Advts have a big mug shot of a tiger.

    Also there are many scientists who in the name of Tiger research publish tons of coffee table books on Tigers and sell them to the whole world and create an aura around the majestic cat.

    All these in turn create tremendous pressure to "spot a tiger"

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    @sabyasachi, i had mailed u reply ?? do u stil have it

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    i totally agree with you on the way some of the tour operators behave. though here the issue is to focus on the tour operators invading the space of the animals to make their clientele have a 'better' holiday. be it indian or foriegn.

    the key here is that, no matter whether its indian or a foreigner the tour operators have to know how and when to act and where to draw the line especially when it comes to wildlife.

    two good examples of this:
    kaziranga national park. my recent visit there. the safari drivers etc have an association from which they organize the safaris. u can complain to them if u re driver / guide acts untowardly in any circumstance during ure trip and stern action is taken. on closer conversation with all of them i realised that they felt responsible for safety and they also had knowledge of the park. another key thing , is that they felt that if the animals are disturbed, then there will be less sightings which would lead to less visitors and less business. i thought this was very sensible of them. so foriegner or not, they stopped only long enough at each of the sightings. the only hooligans i ever saw in the park were a couple of the private vehicles around with our usual indian families, who were there more on holiday than on a wildlife safari. if u know what i mean.

    the other from dandeli np in north western karnataka:
    i dont remember the name exactly cuz this was sometime back. but the safari organized there too was very similar. the man was full of local knowledge and also knew where to draw the line...so we had a great trip, that improved our knowledge without troubling any animal.

    on the other hand:
    in bandipur, again a long while ago, we had an incident where the driver wanted to get us the best shot possible and raced towards two elephants which promptly turned and charged...

    my point being, at the end of all this
    1) people need to be aware of the dangers of getting too close
    2) people need to be sensitized as to where to draw the line

    these two can be done by awareness

    the 3) and the most important is that as long as theirs money to be made in the picture, greed will oust need and the tour operators will push the envelope so the 'guests' return to them...

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    Thumbs up

    Dear Sabyasachi & Mrudul,

    Majority people who are involved in eco-tourism sector are purely money minded professionals and they come here to make money and nothing else.

    The negative side is tourists are spending big amount of money on these resorts (jokers). I hate big resorts and their contracts with wildlife parks to make money with private safaris.

    In this scenerio wildlife will never ever get importance. I've stopped visiting National Parks specially 'Tiger Parks' since 2000 as protest. I know there will be no impact of my protest but i get satisfaction that I've atleast tried to do something for the wildlife. I'll never visit any 'Tiger Parks' unless i feel there is love for wildlife instead tourism...

    Instead i love & do visit off road destinations where i don't find any tourists, no eco-tourism Cos, No resorts, No safaris, No money matter, No permission, No violation of rules & No need to spend big amount of hard-eared money on senseless people. Only love for wildlife & natrure. Everything seems happy, calm & pleasing for me and my wildlife

    Do Protest...Show your love for wildlife...Please join me in protest.
    Last edited by Rahul Parekh; 30-04-2009 at 10:05 AM.

  12. #12
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    I'm glad to hear that Cicada initiated action. I have seen an enormous and positive change in the attitude of the JLR drivers. Years ago they used to charge elephants but all of that seems to have changed today.

    Let us hope that the new management of Cicada is as responsible.

    Years ago, when Cicada was Kapila, I photographed a tusker in musth with Vikram. We kept our distance and did not switch off the jeep.

    Apana

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