By Josh Lew
India's supreme court recently extended a month-old ban on tourism within the country's tiger preserves. The two judges overseeing the case said local governments and government ministries have not been enforcing a law in place since the 1970s designed to protect tiger breeding grounds from tourism. By many estimates, about half the world's tiger population — which is a little more than 3,000 — lives in India.
On the surface, the judges' decision seems logical: The easiest way to address worries about tourist traffic is to stop it. However, people who make their living from eco-tourism inside the dozens of tiger conservation areas in India oppose the ban. The areas that are supposed to be off-limits to tourists make up only a portion of each preserve, yet the preserves have been shuttered completely. Surprisingly, some conservationists also oppose the ban, saying it is an over-simpliflied simple solution to a complex problem.
Leading tiger advocates, such as the tiger-focused group Wildlife Protection Society of India, say the ban will hurt the country’s tiger population more than help it. According to the group, regular tourist traffic and the presence of tour staffers in the preserves reduces the chance of poaching, which along with deforestation has been blamed for the rapid decline in the subcontinent's tiger population, down to less than 1,500 from tens of thousands less than a century ago. Also, the tourism industry boosts the economies of the rural, generally impoverished areas where the preserves are located and provides jobs to local people who might otherwise consider poaching or logging as a means of income. In turn, this provides an incentive to protect tiger habitats. More....