Tiger Sandwitched Between Tourist Vehicles
There were at least seven canters and some gypsies full of tourists, behind the tiger -identified as T121- and as many vehicles in front of the cat moving in reverse direction. The tiger was sandwiched between the vehicles near a junction of zone number 4 and 5. “ It happened because the vehicles meet at the junction to go in different directions”, a guide explained. “ the video was shot with malafied intention by someone present in the vehicle right in front of the tiger”, he added. The video was believed to have been shot on June 3 , a tourist operator said. Saturdays and Sundays are very crowded as a large number of tourists turn to the park. One canter can carry atleast 20 tourists and most of the time onthe weekends they are overloaded with as many as 25, a guide claimed .Most wildlife tourists prefer to go on a canter safari because it is cheaper than a gypsy ride . “It provides a special wildlife experience”, a hotel operator said.
Tiger tourism has increased rapidly in Ranthambhore and is famous world over for tiger sightings. There is a powerful tourism lobby operating in the park and many times doesn’t mind bending the laws. This is among the most visited tiger reserves in India and contributes heavily to the local economy. The park earns about Rs 25 crore annually through tourism. Besides, there is a multi crore business of hotels and resorts dotted in the small and backward district of Sawai Madhopur in Rajasthan. Results of a research in 2016- 17 said, “Ranthambhore has gained an enviable reputation and people visit to see a hugely increased wild tiger and wildlife population. It is attracting 469,850 visitors , and raised an extraordinary Rs 19.57 crore (US$2.85 m) in park fees alone in 2016-17 and generated Rs 217.2crore (US$33.36m) per year to the local economy”. These earnings increased manifold in the following years, exerting pressure on tigers and exposing them to tourism.
Negative Impact On Wildlife
Vehicular traffic from tourists would have a negative impact on wildlife, a study revealed in 2015. This was the period when governments in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan also reduced the period of annual shut down of the parks from four months to three ( June to September was changed from July to September) . The study was conducted in Kanha and Bandhavgarh reserves of Madhya Pradesh . The same year scientists from Laboratory for the Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES) at CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad conducted the research . It revealed tigers suffer from high levels of physiological stress due to wildlife tourism and a large number of vehicles entering the parks. Prolonged stress can adversely affect both survival and reproduction, the study found.
“Chronically elevated glucocorticoid levels can negatively impact growth, reproductive success, immunity, and cause muscular atrophy,” senior author Govindhaswamy Umapathy who was principal scientist and project leader wrote. Many times aggression shown by tigers in Ranthambhore bolstered the study. Irritated by the vehicular traffic and number of incidents of tigers chasing tourist vehicles have been reported almost on a regular basis from Ranthambore. A frightening 19-second video of an incident, was tweeted in December 2019 and it showed a tiger menacingly chasing a safari gypsy. In January 2022 a similar incident was reported and as a precautionary measure, the route where the incident occurred was closed for tourists and the tiger’s behavior was monitored through camera traps.
Awareness Required For Healthy Tourism Pratices
There are also instances when tourists litter the national parks leaving behind plastic bottles , empty wrappers and even ploy bags. Ntizen science is the need of the hour to respect nature and its denizens, said a senior official of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) .They need to differentiate such tourism from mass visitation destinations. “ This calls for a strong thematic area in school , college curriculum , apart from andemonstrative action to emphasise the occurrence of tiger , other wildlife and their habitat as indicators of well being of life support ecosystem services “, he said Treating them as a mere object of entertainment would disturb their day to day normal rhythm and put them under stress. The life cycles of tigers and other wild animals get disturbed leading to loss of their fecundity, another official said. But what about the park managers ( officials) ?
Another senior official of NTCA said “ The park managers should abide by the carrying capacity and they should not be a victim of misplaced enthusiasm to allow things to degenerate like this ( the latest incident) .As far as the mushrooming hotels and other facilities, the district authorities need to be vigilant about the landscape and avoid mushrooming of unsustainable tourism infrastructure. For tiger viewing a safari can be thought of nearby under natural settings with a modest entry fee , run by the host community, he said.
By Deshdeep Saxena
banner image , a video grabs. Tiger with water bottle credit Apratim Sinha shown in the image