The tiger, with its cloak of majesty and might, always demands awe and respect, and rightly so. Karnataka, of course, boasts of rich tiger reserves that promises extraordinary sights. As weekends dawn, plenty of Bengalureans venture into the jungle to catch a glimpse of the feline and capture its picture in their minds and cameras.
Manjunath, the founder of ‘Wild Trails India’, an information centre on wildlife, receives at least two requests per day on details about tiger tourism, with Bandipur and Nagarhole being the most frequented tiger reserves. Other off-beat tiger reserves include Biligiri Ranga Temple, Bhadra Tiger and Anshi-Dandeli Tiger Reserve. He cites a study which ‘Wild Trails’ has compiled from various sources.
“Though there is a threat to endangered species in general, tigers have increased in numbers which has boost tiger tourism. As per 2014 census, we have more than 406 tigers, which is the highest count across India. There are about 120 tigers in Bandipur and 70 tigers in Nagarhole. The combined tiger population in Bandipur and Nagarhole and the border areas, Mudumalai and Wayanad, was estimated at 570 in 11,000 sq km in 2014. This is the highest compared to any other forest space in the country.”
Conservation efforts by the Forest Department has led to an increase of tiger tourism too. Hari Nair, the CEO and founder of Holiday IQ attributes this to a leap in jungle tourism in general and an increase in awareness through amateur photography and blogs. “Experiential travel, rather than luxury and leisure travel has become popular. ‘Tiger Trails’ have grown in popularity across all traveller groups. Solid organisation by the Karnataka Government and Forest Department and an awareness to the need for conservation has boost tourism on this front.” Similarly, Harsha, a wildlife photographer, says that the sheer passion for wildlife coupled with good maintenance of tiger reserves by the Government and other NGOs have led to a growth in tiger tourism Sachin, the director of ‘Toehold’, a company which organises wildlife tours and trains amateurs in wildlife photography, says that tiger tourism has picked up well also because of an elite social status attached to going on an ‘experiential holiday’ to explore the wild. ‘Toehold’ has done about 60 Kabini trips in the last five years and 15 trips to Bandipur, where each trip is always full with wildlife enthusiasts. With such a huge market today, people unanimously echo that the future of tiger tourism is bustling. Citing a few examples, Sachin says, “Kabini Forest is split into two zones, where only one zone is accessible through the day. According to a Supreme Court judgement, only 20% of the tiger reserve is accessible to tourists. There are some areas where one can go in with one’s private car as long as they have a guide in the car. Urban dwellers wouldn’t know the restricted areas.The rules and control of tourism in such reserves are strict because of the increase in number and pressure from tourists.”
However, though the picture looks rosy today, some threats to tiger tourism loom large in the air. Manjunath looks at poaching and encroachment as two major concerns while Hari feels that there is a dire need for a balance between conservation, support from the locals, which makes conservation possible, and capitalising the power of the tourists by exposing them to the diversity of forests.
Sachin talks of the importance of corridor maintenance and connectivity. “There should also be a primary attitude change towards tiger tourism. People wander into reserves with the motive of seeing only a tiger and are sometimes demotivated if they don’t spot one because tiger sightings are unpredictable. They don’t appreciate any other rare sight in the journey.”