A new American study undermines the whole concept of wildlife reserves and national parks. The suggestion is that humans should be barred completely from wildlife reserves including tiger reserves in India. If people are serious about wildlife conservation it is time to leave wildlife alone. I’m going to refer to a couple of studies, in fact.
American national parks
A recent study (‘Low levels of outdoor recreation alter wildlife behaviour’) from America found that even a few human visitors to a national park affects the behaviour of the animals.
Of course, it is to be expected that wild animals will avoid people in the interests of their survival but almost any level of human activity in a protected area alters their behaviour. There are two negative impacts: the survival of the animals and people wishing to see animals.
The researchers looked at Glacier Bay National Park, a relatively quiet park with about 40,000 people visiting annually.
On average across four animal species: wolves, black bears, brown bears and moose, they found that there was a drop to 5 animals per week seen in an area when humans were present
The wolves were the wariest of people whereas black bears were more tolerant, and moose apparently used people to help protect them from wolf predation. They were more present when humans were around.
The lead author of the study, Mira Sytsma, said: “It was eye-opening to see the number of wildlife sightings we are missing just by recreating [humans enjoying recreation] in backcountry areas of Glacier Bay. So many people visit national parks for the chance to see wildlife, and that desire alone may reduce the chance of it happening.”
India’s tiger reserves
Referring to another study (see base of page) concerning tiger reserves in India and particularly two reserves in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh – described as the tiger state of India – they found that tigers become incredibly stressed when tourists rumbled through in their vehicles.
It would seem that tourism operators to Bandhavgarh and Kanha tiger reserves flout the 40 vehicle per day limit which adds to the disturbance suffered by the tigers.
Stressing tigers is important because it can stop them breeding which destroys tiger conservation and the tiger is on its knees in terms of conservation.
They say that each reserve has a ‘large population’ of over 60 tigers. I would have thought that 60 tigers constitute a small population, somewhere near the absolute limit for the survival of the species due to inbreeding.
And interestingly, there are 15 villages inside Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve with a human population of over 6,000 people and a livestock population of 11,000. And in the buffer zone around Kanha Tiger Reserve there is a human population of 129,000 people and more than 85,000 cattle. Surely, the presence of this large number of people must also affect tiger conservation in these reserves.
There is an argument that there should be absolutely no interference by people within tiger reserves. It would end tiger tourism which is something that will be very heavily resisted by the commercial enterprises. It actually won’t happen unless things become desperate. This is a good example of how capitalism clashes with conservation. Capitalism invariably wins. Or there is a very uneasy compromise biased towards commercial enterprise to the detriment of tiger conservation.
As for the American wildlife parks, the conclusion there is probably that the organisers should allow visitors to populate certain confined areas in greater numbers and leave other areas completely devoid of visitors. This is because even small numbers affect wildlife behaviour.
Indian study: Tyagi, A., Kumar, V., Kittur, S., Reddy, M., Naidenko, S., Ganswindt, A., & Umapathy, G. (2019). Physiological stress responses of tigers due to anthropogenic disturbance especially tourism in two central Indian tiger reserves. Conservation Physiology, 7(1), coz045.