As many will attest to – few things are more beautiful than seeing a ferocious beast in its natural environment, going about its daily activities under the watchful eyes of tourists and their guides. However, the beauty of this kind of ecological tourism, especially in regards to the rare and impressive Bengal tiger, may be short lived. With the population of the Bengal tiger dwindling, the Indian government is limiting tiger tourism in an attempt to slow the nearing extinction of one of its most notable national jewels.
As mentioned in a previous article, what is often considered a vital part of a journey to an exotic part of the world may not be benefiting the area in question, or the organisms that call it home. The Bengal tiger, a native of India, is housed in over 37 different reserves. The National Tiger Conservation Authority, however, feels that the constant presence of tourists in such reserves threatens the survival of the elusive tigers.
Rajesh Gopal, the head of the conservation agency, said in an interview that for many, the true reason these reserves are kept is too often forgotten by eager tourists. The survival of the tiger is key, and with the rapidly declining population, it may be time for tourists to get their thrills elsewhere.
In February of 2008, a count was made and the tiger population had dropped to a strikingly low 1,411, as opposed to the 3,642 that were counted in 2002. At this rate, complete extinction could be a mere ten years away, and in response to this jaw-dropping figure, the Environment Ministry ordered a cutback on tourism in the area, which the Indian government is now strictly enforcing.
Despite poaching being the widely accepted cause for this drop in tiger population, habitat destruction as a result of tourism is not being ignored. Cars flattening surrounding grasslands eliminate the tiger’s main hunting advantage, and loud engines scare away potential prey, not to mention disturb the carefully calculated mindset the tigers need to be in to feed themselves and their young.
The simple presence of tourists is not the only threat to the tigers’ well-being. Lodges and resorts have often been established in main tiger territories, blocking paths of access the tigers use to migrate from one area to the other, and despite being ecologically friendly, disrupt the natural environment Bengal tigers are accustomed to.
For now, people who call the areas home are being relocated, and tourist lodges are being shut down. In the future, hopeful tourists may have to find their beloved Bengal tigers elsewhere, as zoos are now the only place where they may catch a glimpse of the feral creature.
[Image: Toyger Allure]