As majority of you have already been reading the online articles regarding the ban on Tiger Tourism, I thought I would give a better explanation of what is happening.
Wildlife Tourism really started in India in the 1980s. We were one of the first to set up lodges and have been in the industry for almost 30 years now. During the 1990s, wildlife tourism – especially in places like Bandhavgarh and Kanha -was reserved primarily for people who had a genuine interest in wildlife viewing rather than just a holiday or picnic. This was primarily because poor infrastructure made it challenging to reach these remote areas.
With the growth in accommodations, the number of tourists grew. Indian tourists also became an integral part of this business and constituted to over 70% of park entrances. The forest department, realizing this growth, increased their entrance charges by about 2000% in some cases, over a period of 5 years. This happened primarily talking in Madhya Pradesh, constituting Bandhavgarh, Kanha, Pench, Panna and Satpura areas. More and more locals started investing in Jeeps and started driving rashly in the parks. Two years ago, MP started regulating this by restricting the number of vehicles that entered each gate and providing a route system to each and every vehicle in order to maintain order. But flocks of jeeps still crowded any particular spots where a tiger was seen.
- The buffer zone is where a lot of the villages still exist. The buffer does not have a clear definition in India and there’s a very vague argument on where buffer would end, especially with a lot of human activity in the area.
- Although in the long run, I feel the buffer would again become the core with the relocation of villages, and tourists being a watchful eye for this new habitat and the present core may become the buffer. I say the above, and it only would hold true if the government does not step up its act for tiger monitoring and enforcement. But if it remains the way it is, we might as well say goodbye to the tigers in the wild.
- Having a major drop in business and pretty much shutting down of majority of the lodges means that in all those villages that were relocated years ago and those very people who were given tourism jobs will today go unemployed.
- Directly or indirectly, this number would be in six figures. Everyone from your chai walla (tea stand), gypsy drivers, lodge staff, guides, etc would all be out of a job. And especially the loans taken out to buy a jeep, a transport vehicle, a tea stand, would leave them no other means but to sell their personal assets.
- We all know the poachers are always locals who know the whereabouts of all the animals. I fear these disenfranchised villagers might resort to becoming poachers in the near future.
The guidelines are good overall but there are some points we need to argue. The rules cannot be entirely decided by two people sitting in an office. We feel a committee should be made with all stakeholders involved from the village head to the Forest Minister. This is what we are fighting for. The guidelines allow tourism in the Core area upto 20 percent, but their calculation of how many jeeps are allowed acceptable to all.
- Locals in various national parks are calling for ‘dharna’s’ (agitation). They’re pretty much asking, what do we do now? They may be all going to the capital to protest and this number will be in thousands.
- According to some reports, we dont even give 1% back to the communities. This is an outrageous statement. When all our employees are local villagers, our drivers, transporters, vegetable seller, meat seller, every single person except our managers and possibly some naturalists. Hence we need to prove them wrong. We dont have white glove employees from city’s speaking fluent English to all our clients. We employ locals, to keep it sustainable.
- Primary purpose is to first lift the ban, which we are very hopeful off as this effects everyone.
- Secondary, to take out reasonable eco tourism guidelines. It cannot always be acceptable to all, which we understand, but cannot be unreasonable. We should be stakeholders in the future of wildlife tourism in our country.
Views from all sides are given in the media. Some negative, but many positive. Refer clients to those articles if needed. If you want to be kept in the loop through us, we can happily send you links as the articles keep getting published. Otherwise I am sure everyday if you put Tiger Tourism in google, new articles will pop up.
Shri Kailash Sankhala (Amit’s grandfather) were a celebrated personality in the field of wildlife. He was a distinguished forest officer with the Indian Forest Service and Founder Director of Project Tiger, launched in 1973, acclaimed as the most successful conservation program at that time.
Having inspired by his father and grandfather, Amit Sankhala has vowed to continue the legacy of the Sankhala family by carrying forward the mission of nature conservation and wildlife tourism. Managing Director of Dynamic Tours Pvt Ltd. Tiger Resorts Pvt. Ltd, and trustee of Tiger Trust, Amit has vast knowledge and boundless enthusiasm in the Tourism meadow has enabled him to get series of success in his profession. Having traveled throughout the world, from tracking Jaguars in the Pantanal to Polar Bears in Svalbard, Mountain Gorillas in Uganda to snorkeling in the Galapagos Archipelago, Amit has done it all.