dropcap]A[/dropcap] new study documents both financial and other key benefits that wildlife tourism brings to Madhya Pradesh’s tiger reserves and some of the communities living around them. The report, “The Value of Wildlife Tourism for Conservation and Communities” , by a team led by Dr Raghu Chundawat, records the results of a recent in depth study around four Tiger Reserves in Central India.
In the four Tiger Reserves, the team found that the total revenue generated from wildlife tourism’s entry fees alone was Rs.19,42,00,000. This was more than the State Government’s contribution of Rs.18,76,22,500 to these Reserves. Central Assistance budget was Rs.21,24,31,200 (The total budget for these four Reserves in 2016-17 was Rs.40,00,53,700) .
Dr Raghu Chundawat, the eminent tiger scientist who led the research team, points out that while successful, most Tiger Reserves in India are small and the tiger populations protected within their boundaries are not viable. “Exclusionary models of conservation are no longer feasible over a larger landscape,” he says. He believes that to build on the success of the Protected Areas and take tiger conservation beyond their boundaries, we need to look at new, parallel and complementary models for saving and restoring forests. “Our findings show that wildlife tourism can provide one way of doing this;” he adds, “with support and improved sustainable practices, tourism could provide a paradigm to spread benefit to tigers and people over a much broader area.”
“If nature tourism is seen as a conservation tool rather than a threat, it has the potential to bring sustainable and significant economic development to many remote areas.” said Dr Chundawat: “Many countries around the world have shown this and benefitted from increased biodiversity conservation. But it requires sympathetic government policies that promote and encourage sustainable wildlife tourism over a larger landscape.”
The report highlights that revenues generated by small business enterprises are eight times higher in villages with tourism infrastructure than in those without. As well as enhancing the local economy generally, the report highlights that in the tourism affected villages employment is significantly higher and health and education is greatly improved. Furthermore the dependency of these communities on the forest is much reduced and their positive attitude to wildlife conservation much enhanced, a significant win-win for conservation efforts.
Julian Matthews, founder of the nature stewardship charity, TOFTigers, commented that: “the study has found that many of the criticisms leveled at the tourism community are not correct here when examined closely. For instance 80% of jobs are held by locals, 45% of all the direct revenue goes to the local economy and 90% of available accommodation caters to the budget, not luxury, traveler.” “The researchers found zero evidence of forest cover loss either” he adds, “but there are certainly still key issues, including poor planning, lighting, noise and waste disposal, that need to be improved to enjoy the full potential of this sector to support tiger protection and forest conservation.”