Sunday, September 20, 2015

Wildlife Conservation - Why Tourism?

 "Let there be peace in the heavens, the Earth, the atmosphere, the water, the herbs, the vegetation, among the divine beings and in Brahman, the absolute reality. Let everything be at peace and in peace. Only then will we find peace."   - Atharvana Veda

 To many this form of tourism seems more of a tamasha then a appreciable recreation. No doubt people come here for a holiday and fun. And the prospect of seeing the tiger excites one and all. Even seasoned naturalists like us revel in each and every sighting of wild animals, tiger being the most cherished.  

Well the crux of dismay among some, especially few non government organizations is the sense of exclusion that protected areas create and it is further compounded by lack of understanding of this delicate web of nature. Some see human rights everywhere. This attitude is also prevalent among few indolent staff of the conservation units as well  who often have to bear managing the burden of tourism as it appears to them. The truth is that all forms of life have inherited the earth equally and they too need inviolate space. Hence almost eighty percent of the protected areas are not open for tourism.  

Just to ban this activity, massive movement of State machinery took place not to minus the cost and efforts put up by the industry to preserve their precious investment and businesses. The effort to ban tourism  may appear futile to people like us who are in favor, but then this whole exercise did result in redefining the activity. This was good for all, the conservation effort, staff, local employees and of course the industry. Thousands of jobs and income sources were saved by the Honorable Court's decision.   

With the increase in cost of safaris in the park the concept appears to be more elitist in nature. But this line of thinking has descended from the shikar days since hunting was the prerogative of the upper class, the royals and later whosoever powerful with mighty weapons of destruction.

With the legislation in force...fresh from hunting era the privileged became tourists and photographers. But the prerogative was limited in scope in Independent India. As the industry expanded, the common man entered the arena, without guns but with a camera and a humble profile. The revelation dawned upon the public that they too could enjoy this sport albeit in a non destructive manner.  

Bengal Tiger - Kanha National Park
This is what brought about a paradigm shift as to the way the wild animals were perceived. From vermin they in an overnight turned into precious jewels of nature. Nature films and photographers also added to the positive change in attitude among the people at helm, and the common man. This changed attitude of the masses accorded further impetus to nascent conservation efforts of that era. Augmented scientific research furthered preservation.    

Sloth Bear
We should not forget to pay tribute to our PM at that time Smt. Indira Gandhi. Her commitment to preserve dwindling strands of our heritage brought about rich dividends. So it was said, and truly, that tiger conservation was the saving grace of the wilderness as whole. Habitats were preserved, ecosystems improved and endangered species on brink of extinction gained ground. Swamp Deer at Kanha National Park is a fine example.

Hard Ground Swamp Deer

Not only did the industry gained from tourism, the local communities gained much more. The empowerment through training, skill development and of course employment augured better standard of living and access to education.   
Common Kingfisher

The hordes of tourists wiser by experience and hence knowledgeable become sentinels of nature. This brought about a change, initially by pressure but later by a sense of duty towards our environment among the wildlife managers. The recreation had a profound effect upon the political set up and industrialists  as well - nearly. 

Controlled tourism also garners lot of funds, crucial for maintenance and conservation of our precious resources and heritage wealth. By all means a healthy activity this has created an equity for all that is wild in India.      

Images by Dinesh Makhija of Motel Chandan at Kanha.