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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wildlife Tourism And Local Communities

Wildlife tourism though earlier considered to be the prerogative of elite has come far down the line. It has assimilated in its wake many fruitful aspects with the passage of time. Though still promoted with hiccups, and often seen in a narrow perspective, the industry has empowered local communities like none has.

It also augurs crucial foreign exchange through thousands of wildlife enthusiasts from overseas. Tiger tourism is in the wishlist of uncountable number of travellers all over the Globe. 

I have been visiting tiger reserves since more than three decades, and seen the positive. The ecosystems have grown to their completeness and round about holistic benefits have accrued. There have been a tremendous rise in converts as far as awareness of our environment is concerned. The reserves have also experienced a turn  around in animal populations (read bio-diversity). A new vocation has been generated in conservation research and skills of exploration i.e. guiding, birding, photography etc amidst the youth.

Though tourism is not contributing factor, at least not directly, but then safaris have become a learning experience for populations with no idea of how the ecosystems work, and how nature contributes to preservation of our immediate environment. The people who have worked hard to preserve our inheritance have brought about this turnaround.  
Tribal Family - Courtesy Neeraj Vegad 

On one sight of the big cats and other predators, the first impression that is done away with is the vermin concept. I too used to think of tigers and leopards as blood thirsty animals that would devour human beings on the first go. I now fear the ever burgeoning unruly traffic and hoodlums in our society a far greater threat than being accidentally mauled by wild animals. The activity has also brought forth the National Pride that we hold at our incredible inheritance,        

I remember witnessing my first tiger at a very young age. It was a dead tiger, it lay listless at peace in its final slumber. It was legal hunted at Nauradehi WLS in MP before the legislation, but still to me it appeared an unpardonable crime against the nature. I was too small to understand the implication of this heinous misdeed. The hunter moved amongst us...with his story of valour.. and had us running around him. This team of hunters visited us every year along with a wealthy relative far removed.  (sic).  The legislation put stop to this. 

Why I am writing about all this?

Well our impression about other life forms eventually shape our policies, and our attitude towards them. Today modern education has inculcated teachings about things precious to our environment, earlier it was not so. Contemporary conservation is based upon an equity...what we value, and the literature at our behest. India has been blessed with ancient conservation ethos but that has not proven to be enough...look where we stand today?    

In absence of (regulated) wildlife tourism, awareness about ecosystems would have moved back in to a deep recess. Our attitude towards wilderness would have been uncaring and drastic...well it stills is in case of many people. Secondly in a populist democracy hard facts have to be drained down the gullets of those who administer this country...with syrup. 

It is the hotel/tourism industry which has been at the forefront of local employment apart from the administration...namely the forest department. The work experience and training imparted have been contributing factor towards empowerment. This has subsequently resulted in greater job opportunities and hence better standard of living. Such initiative has been taken by Kanha administration in conjunction with an NGO as well, and trainees are finding job opportunities in the industry all over. There may be many more such examples.   These are aspects that are rarely talked about and little appreciated.

Most of the employees are locals who have the developed skill to work in many faculties. This has come about with time and tourism. With experience and skill development they have become part of vocations and small  businesses as well. And some in tourism industry do distribute fruits of labour towards local infrastructure in form of donations or contributions.  

Benefits have accrued to the displaced lot as well as those living in the periphery.  From being in far flung remote areas they been connected by the hospitality industry with the mainstream and contribute to Nation development greatly.     

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