Govt to take stock of unregulated tourism near Tiger reserves

"Though tourism is a state subject, booming tourist activity is being noticed around the wildlife habitat and it is time some concrete actions are taken in this regard. "Environment and Tourism secretaries Vijay Sharma and Sujeet Banerjee will represent their respective ministries among other officials in this regard," a senior official of the National Tiger Consrvation Authority said.

The meeting comes in the wake of the Prime Minister writing to Chief Ministers of three tiger-bearing states namely Madhya Pradesh, Uttarkhand and Maharashtra to put a check on mushrooming luxury resorts as well as to notify buffer areas around the habitat of big cats to mitigate man-animal conflict. "The meeting will discuss steps within the Centre's jurisdiction to streamline tourism in all the reserves, particularly in Corbett Tiger Reserve (CTR) in Uttarakhand where wildlife is facing problems resulting from uncontrolled human activities in the adjoining 77 tourist lodges," the official said.

He referred to a recent survey by the Tourism Ministry which pointed out that a maximum of 600 persons are allowed in a day to enter the CTR area. Tourist lodges provide boarding and lodging facility to 3,197 visitors. "About 70 per cent of visitors arriving in these lodges aren't here to visit the park but for attending dance parties and other recreational activities which create noise and light pollution, particularly during night that causes stress to wildlife," the survey pointed out.

Garbage is also dumped in the area without scientific management, it said. Other issues on the agenda of the meeting will be eco-tourism, in which states would be given incentives to declare eco-sensitive zones around wildlife habitat as required by the law to prevent damage to the fragile ecology.

Worried over the increased commercial activities around sanctuaries (39 tiger reserve and 663 protected areas), Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh recently said the states have been advised against unregulated tourism, which is as much a threat to tiger population as poaching and poisoning. Four big cats have died in the past two months in the Corbett Tiger Reserve due to poaching and poisoning. According to officials, 16 tigers have been killed so far since January this year while 66 died last year.

Mafias, local politicians and many others are involved in the killings as they want the tiger population to dwindle so that the land can be used for mining or construction, Ramesh had said. According to wildlife conservationist Raman Sukumar, eco-tourism can lead to sensitisation of the masses towards wildlife conservation and also help in bringing in the much-need money for conservation and to local economies, though this is not happening now.

"Conservation does need money but we should not open the floodgates," he said, clearly opposing uncontrolled tourism. According to the latest census, there are 1,411 tigers left in the country.

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