Confusion Amongst Tiger Conservationists

Will banning the tiger from the core areas of India’s Bengal tiger reserves help in the conservation of the Bengal tiger? Currently, there is a temporary ban imposed by India’s Supreme Court on tourists to core areas of tiger reserves. As I understand it, the idea is that tourists should be confined to buffer zones, areas outside the core areas of the park to allow the tiger to behave naturally in a better environment.

Female Bengal tiger Ranthambhore NP
Female Bengal tiger Ranthambhore NP. Photo by Koshyk. She has a radio collar and her coat changes color towards her hind quarters.
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This is a nice picture. She is a female Bengal tiger in the famous Ranthambhore reserve. She looks thin to me but this might be normal. Also the coat at the hind quarters has lost its color. Does anyone know why? The photographer, Koshy, says he took the photograph in “Mandook in Zone 3” of the reserve. It took two safaris in very hot conditions before he saw her.

The court will make a final order on its ban in three days. I’ll return to this page in three days to update it. It is hard enough already to see a tiger, even in the core areas, so tourists confined to the outskirts won’t see a tiger and the buffer zones have such industrial developments as illegal mining and concrete works located in them which prevents the tiger entering these areas. According confining tourism to buffer areas won’t work it is claimed.

The temporary ban under a court order was made because state governments were not complying with a directive from Delhi to create buffer zones. This roaring war is between all the parties that you can imagine:

  • Politicians (national and state governments);
  • Conservationists (conservationists appear to disagree on what to do and whether a ban on tourism will save the Bengal tiger);
  • Business (tourism and illegal businesses such as mining);
  • Poachers for tiger body parts.

The innocent victim in the middle, the tiger, the so called most fearsome predator in world, looks decidedly feeble next to the human.

One conservationists, Belinda Wright, is fiercely against the ban on tourism. She believes it will lead to more poaching and encroachment from developments.

Tourism brings in money to the reserves. However, you sense that tourism does gradually grow and grow until it turns what is meant to be a natural sanctuary for the Bengal tiger into a large zoo almost. Tourism is about business and business does know when to stop and will inevitably treat the tiger as a commodity. Business is short sighted so it won’t think about long term damage to that commodity by overdoing tourism.

The irony of this is that the reserves are generally too small anyway. The creation of the tiger reserves appears to be have been mismanaged. If reserves are too small they cannot hold enough tigers for breeding to take place with sufficient genetic diversity. Tigers need large home ranges and these reserves can’t accommodate that. There are too many tigers in one of the best known reserves, Ranthambhore. I never thought I would write that.

Another irony is that in the United States, trade in pet tigers (these are generic tigers – not a specific subspecies) is very healthy even if the tigers are not. One online trader claims to export five month old female tigers from India to the West. He says they make good pets and the tigers he supplies are socialised to human contact. It makes you laugh. Where does he get these tigers? He says he breeds them. Are they inbred? Almost certainly. Are they healthy? Who knows. And why is India allowing tigers to be exported abroad when they are losing tigers at home?

I have another question. Why are judges being forced into the debate about tiger conservation? Judges are not qualified to make decisions about tiger conservation. It is a terrible shame that politicians, businessmen and conservationists cannot decide amongst themselves as to the best way forward. One thing is certain. If there were no people in India the tiger would do just fine.

It is the classic struggle between business and conservation. There is no doubt in my mind that business will win. Money talks and there is more money in business than conservation. The tiger is ultimately a financial asset in India and people are fighting over it.

We need to see the tiger as a beautiful wild animal that we cannot afford to lose.

Original photo on Flickr

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