What is tiger tourism?
Tiger Tourism in India: All You Need to Know. It is important to understand the history of tiger conservation before we begin talking about tiger tourism in India. In the beginning of 20th century, India had over 40000 tigers. However, little did we know that just 6 decades later the numbers would plummet to under 2000. How did this decimation happen? A lot of indiscriminate tiger shikar (hunting) to begin with during the Raj times, followed by focus on development in free India.
Had it not been for the Project Tiger (1973) by our then Prime Minister this planet earth would have been bereft of tigers today. We were on the brink of reaching a non-viable tiger population to sustain in the wild. Project Tiger brought in awareness of the perilous condition the tigers were in due to poaching, and habitat loss.
It seemed we had resolved the problems, and now it will be easy for tigers to thrive. However, little did we know that the doubling of the human population in the last five decades would increase the tiger conservation challenges manifolds. The necessity for hydro projects, dams, highways, expressways, and fossil fuel became necessities for the economy to grow and ecology to shrink.
This fragmented the tiger habitat to an irreversible point. The forest corridors died out barring a couple. Now, the challenges in front of the tiger were anew. The figures from the tiger census in 2006 confirmed the same when it declared that India had just 1411 tigers in the wild. This was even lower than 1800 tigers in 1972 when the Project Tiger had started. The roar had died out in two popular national parks completely.
However, one unorganized sector was working silently and steadily, wildlife tourism. The foundation of this took place in the early 21st century. The government’s efforts in conservation combined with some dedicated individuals in non-profit organizations and wildlife tourism together completed the jigsaw puzzle of conservation. The results of this were seen in the subsequent censuses, and in 2018 the jungles of India were resonating with the roars of at least 2967 tigers.
How does tiger tourism in India help tiger conservation efforts?
Without money, conservation is only a conversation. The expert plans remain on paper without the necessary resources. It is a known fact that tourism is the biggest employer in the world. One tourist gives employment to 11 people. In India, tourism alone contributes 10% to our GDP. Thus, tiger tourism in India is a proven tool that can instantly benefit the local flora, fauna and the community. The Government, many non-profit organizations, and some large-hearted tiger lovers contribute generously towards conservation, but the money that reaches the local community immediately is the tourism money.
When a tourist visits a national park, he stays in a hotel, resort, or a home stay, which employs a lot of local community. He does tiger safaris guided by local tribes, drivers, and he pays for safari permits. There are vendors, and transporters involved in the movement of a tourist in an area. Therefore, there is the immense generation of employment and economy.
A silent and far-reaching benefit of tiger tourism in India is the kindling of awareness about the tiger, the problems, and the conservation efforts. Apart from paying money to see the tiger, these tourists are initiated into nature, which they have forgotten in the busy lives they lead. This increases their visits to the tiger reserves thus snowballing the money that flows into the areas close to the national parks. Many tourists become regulars to some national parks because of good tiger sightings during the tiger safaris they do.
Many such tourists also become the voice of the tiger. I have personally known people who started as tourists, became passionate about tigers, and have now dedicated their lives towards tiger conservation.
Importance of wildlife tourism in India
Man is a social animal, born to roam and run. A popular quote from an ancient Hindu scripture, Rigveda say, “There is no happiness for him who does not travel!
Thus, we have heard. Living in the society of men, the best man becomes a sinner… therefore, wander!… The fortune of him who is sitting, sits; it rises when he rises; it sleeps when he sleeps; it moves when he moves. Therefore, wander!”
Thus the humans will travel. They will travel to places depending on their interest. Thus, tourism is classified into historical, cultural, ethnic, adventure, spiritual, medical, and nature tourism. Wildlife is a significant part of nature tourism, others being beaches, desserts, rivers, mountains etc.
India is one of the richest bio-diverse region of the world. We are home to over 200 critically endangered species. The wildlife tourists worldwide visit India to see the Tigers, Leopards, Snow Leopards, Asiatic Lions, Asian Elephants, One-Horned Rhinos, Black Leopard, amongst 400 other species of mammals, 1350 species of birds, reptiles, butterflies, and much more. Therefore, there is so much of interest within the ambit of wildlife for a regular wildlife tourist, researchers, biologists, and filmmakers that it seems that one cannot see complete range of bio-diversity of India in one’s lifetime.
However, the tiger is the mainstay of wildlife tourism in India. Of the 39 species of cats, tiger is the largest, heaviest, and most powerful predator that roams the wilderness of India. Being majestic to look at and several other qualities tiger has become the most photographed mammal on this blue planet. To know of some unique qualities of a tiger, you may like to read “The Tiger CEO”. It covers aspects about a tiger not covered in any other book on tigers yet.
India is home to 75% of the wild tiger population. Therefore, India becomes an automatic choice to see this majestic beast in the wild. So, India has the magnet that will draw the crowds to its national parks and thus the revenue.
As mentioned, earlier that wildlife tourism is significantly important for India. Not only from economic aspects, or conservation efforts but also in the education of the masses. Today the world faces an imminent danger in Climate Change. Forests play a major role in capturing CO2 from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass through photosynthesis. Forests mitigate severe weather changes as well, like, flash floods, extreme heat, extreme rainfall, etc. Therefore, the importance of forests is understood when one gets exposure of the same through wildlife tourism in India.
The experience of a safari in the dense forests awakens a part of one’s soul that otherwise remains inactive. The awareness that we share this beautiful planet with other species and that they have equal right to stay here is a step towards protecting the environment. Each species is important in the ecosystem with a designated role. If the big cats disappear due to poaching, loss and fragmentation of habitat the population of the prey animals will grow substantially.
This in turn will result in the overgrazing of grasslands, undergrowth, and even the crops in the neighboring villages. Thus, it is imperative to protect the food chain and the forests play a major role in the same. The significance of protecting the forests for humankind is immense and beyond measure.
Over last two decades, wildlife tourism has increased at a pace of 15% per year. However, how much of it is responsible tourism is yet to be ascertained. If this magnitude of tourism is not regulated, nor responsible then it has all potential to cause lot of harm as well.
India has 104 national parks, 52 tiger reserves, and 550 wildlife sanctuaries. Lot of tiger reserves are national parks, but not all national parks are tiger reserves. Tiger Tourism in India is possible only where one has some infrastructure like lodges, guides, and safari vehicles. Not all national parks have this; hence, tourism in national parks is not present in all the parks.
Within these national parks, the list of popular national parks is not large. One can safely count the same on the fingertips. Some parks enjoy celebrity status, to name a few; Jim Corbett, Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Tadoba, Ranthambore, Pench, Nagarhole, Bandipur, Kaziranga, Gir, and Sunderbans. These parks have been historically good with wildlife sightings, good infrastructures like resorts, lodges, guides, naturalists, and good safari drivers.
Accessibility to some big town, airport, or part of some tourist circuit also make the parks busy and popular. For e.g. Ranthambhore National Park is located in the heart of the popular golden triangle circuit of New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, hence it is easily made a part of the itinerary.
Then there are national parks, which are equally good in bio-diversity and experience but not yet on that level of popularity from either accessibility or infrastructure point of view, like Satpura, Panna, Dudhwa, Sariska, Manas, Melghat, Sanjay Dubri, and Rajaji.
The popular national parks have plenty of tourist lodges, resorts, homestays, and hotels. They have accommodations for practically all budgets, from economy to luxury.
When is the best time to visit and do the tiger safaris in India?
There are many theories and logic of the best time to see tigers. I firmly believe it all depends on your objective. You might like to see my video on best time to see tigers. A lot of people recommend the dry months, which generally is the norm, some prefer the winter months for many reasons, and some like the monsoon times. Therefore, it all depends on your objective on what you want to see, and in what background. Do watch my video on the above link to get an idea.
Then it is important to know which national parks are seen best in which months. Some parks and some zones within those are accessible only in certain times of the year. Therefore, you must know the same and then plan your tiger safaris in India. For any further information please feel free to write to us on [email protected]
Sharad Kumar Vats